How would texting behavior look if the same social rules used while texting were used in face-to-face communication?  Examples include the person appearing to talk anytime he/she wanted, a lack of introduction if the person is not in your contact list, a lot of interrupting, agrammatic speech, and no need for eye contact.  Oh, you would have the ability to place the other person on mute or vibrate. 

Recently, I have wondered about the degree to which current forms of electronic communication (texting and posting in social media) influence poor pragmatics during in-person interactions.  Here are two possible examples from situations that occurred last week:

Example 1:   I was standing in a doorway of a professor’s office having a serious conversation.  With the speed of a walking text message, a student, who looked professional because he was dressed in a suit, squeezed by me as he entered the professor’s office without saying, “pardon me.”  He then sat in a chair next to the professor’s desk and looked at the professor.  The only thing missing was the chime heard when a text message arrives.  There was no eye contact with me and seemingly an expectation that the professor would turn her attention immediately to him.   At that point, the professor asked if the student would like to be introduced.  What followed was not very professional either.  This student certainly looked professional, but his behavior was not.

Example 2:  I was standing in my office when a student just walked in my door, held out a paper and said, “Can you sign this?”  There was no knock and no introduction.  This student was not in my “contact list” so I had no idea who he was.

I started wondering more about these behaviors from their origin to the unflinching ease of occurrence.  It may sound cliché from an older person, but “I certainly was not raised that way.”  There seems to be a dearth of appropriate social pragmatic ability by some in a generation where the “rules” of electronic communication via texting or posting in social media have seeped into everyday interactions.  There is a sense of immediacy that nullifies polite communication. Both of the students in the examples above are in professions that require a high level of professional communication.  What is our role?

We can help students acquire knowledge and skills in our professions, but if we don’t help them acquire or refine appropriate social pragmatic skills (some would say manners), then they will not be as successful as they could be.  For me, the poor interactions from last week solidified a new level of responsibility I feel for making sure students have these skills.  I will be looking for these teachable moments and will be using more direct language to help students build social skills that are more professional.  It might sound something like this, “Let’s take a moment to talk about being a professional.  I noticed _______.  In this circumstance, a professional would ______.  Let’s try it again.” 

Good social pragmatics cannot become a lost or diminished skill for students in professions where professional communication is required.  We must provide our students with the social skills necessary to be good citizens and to acquire good jobs.  If this is to happen, then it is important to guide the development of professional communicative interactions.  Excuse me, I just got a text. 

Bonus: Here is a great article on introduction protocol

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