Ever received a text message and thought that maybe the sender is upset or angry with you – only to realise later that you interpreted the message incorrectly, and actually, it was just a case of text message miscommunication with absolutely nothing to worry about?

Around 50% of texts are misunderstood. They can get lost in translation for several reasons. And while text miscommunication might not be a big deal in your personal life, it can become very problematic if you use (or are considering using) text messaging as a channel for internal or external business correspondence.

Read on to learn why misinterpreting texts is so easy and how you can avoid miscommunication with business text messaging.

Why do people misinterpret text messages?

Digital communication is a whole different ball game compared to communicating with someone in person. In one survey, 69.8% of people agreed or strongly agreed that misinterpreting text messages, emails, or other written communication is easier than misunderstanding face-to-face interactions.

How can text messages be misinterpreted when they are usually so short, crisp, quick, and seemingly clear? "Why is texting bad?" you might be wondering. It's not a failure. There are just a few areas that need to be addressed to avoid miscommunication in texting. But before we talk about those, let's explore the causes of text messaging miscommunication.

Here are five of the many reasons why misunderstanding text messages is more common than you might have thought.

1. Absence of context

When we receive a text message, we don't know what the sender is experiencing at the time. Perhaps they're texting on the fly while rushing to catch a train. Maybe they're ill and can only manage a brief message. They could simply be tired and thus struggling to concentrate. With all this crucial context missing, their message could be misconstrued as being short, snappy, or cold.

2. No emotional cues

We often rely on facial expressions and tone of voice to pick up on emotional cues and get a sense of how someone is feeling and reacting to our communication. If you can't see or speak to someone in person, it becomes much harder to 'read' them and gauge whether you're on the same page. Texting is impersonal. Misunderstood text messages are thus often caused by this gap in emotional connection.

3. Lack of body language

Again, we can tell a lot about how someone is feeling by noticing their body language. Folded arms indicate resistance, raised eyebrows signal disbelief or discomfort, and fidgeting denotes anxiety. Smiling usually conveys happiness, humour, and friendliness. With a text, you have no clue about the other person's body language. If either party misinterprets anything, it can easily lead to full-blown texting arguments.

4. Language style differences

Different generations use their own digital language. For example, older generations tend to use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, whereas younger people seem to be more comfortable with using emojis and abbreviations. In the first case, texting can be misconstrued as stiff and formal, while in the latter, it can be seen as the opposite. But it's not even a matter of personal choice; some of this texting lingo was invented only recently, making older generations even more susceptible to text miscommunication.

5. Communication time-delays

Texts are sent and received virtually instantly. That's why it is often expected that replies will be instant, too. However, we don't always respond to these messages in real-time. We might be talking on another phone call, in the middle of a task, or travelling from A to B when a text comes through. We could even be asleep! But if we don't text back right away, the sender might wonder why we're not responding and end up getting impatient or thinking we're ignoring them.

Busy woman multi-tasking

Text message miscommunication tips for businesses

There are many benefits of texting for business – as a communication channel, it's impactful, direct, and gets fantastic results. However, it's important to be mindful of when to communicate via text messaging and when you're better off sending an email or speaking to customers on the phone.

Texts are ideal for

Phone calls and emails are more appropriate for

  • Customer complaints (some people prefer to talk to a human being to get problems resolved)

  • Providing in-depth customer support for unique or complicated problems

  • When you need to communicate detailed or lengthy information such as newsletters.

When you do send out business texts, there are several ways to ensure you convey your message clearly. Here are some tips on how to avoid miscommunication through texting.

1. Use concise, straightforward language

Considering the two language style extremes mentioned earlier, try to aim for somewhere in the middle. Leave out uncommon acronyms and abbreviations, as these can cause confusion (unless you're exclusively targeting a young, hip audience). Opt for full sentences, but consider informal language so that the tone of voice doesn't appear unfriendly.

2. Proofread your message

Always read over your message content before you send it to avoid texting miscommunication. Check for typos in particular because incorrect spelling looks unprofessional and distracts from the information you need to relay. Also, your audience might feel they're not important enough for you to spend time proofreading the messaging you send them.

Misinterpreted text messages can lead to the loss of subscribers too. And not just that. Some typos or misspellings can also cause serious damage, resulting in a direct hit to your sales.

Here's an example.

Back in 1988, before SMS marketing was a thing, the Yellow Pages accidentally advertised an exotic vacation as an "erotic" one, causing a travel company's older customers to back out. Luckily, they were saved by the younger demographic, or there could've been a major loss for the company.

3. Choose the right punctuation

An exclamation point says a lot about a word or sentence. It can show excitement, surprise, happiness or anger – use it as a tool for setting the right tone. See how switching out the full stop for the exclamation mark adds excitement and urgency to this sentence?

‘Order now before it's too late.'

‘Order now before it's too late!'

But at the same time, be careful how your audience might interpret it, keeping the same example in mind. Using the wrong punctuation could also result in your audience misinterpreting the tone of texts similar to the one above, leading to them feeling offended, attacked, or pressured.

4. Use emojis (wisely)

Emojis can't replace emotional cues completely, but as long as you use them in the right quantity, they can help minimise the chances of miscommunication over text. They can add a sense of fun to SMS marketing campaigns and can make internal business conversations seem friendlier. For instance:

'👍 Can you include last month's sales figures in your report next time, please?' reads like you did a good job and additional content will make it even better next time.

Whereas ‘Can you include last month's sales figures in your report next time, please?' without the 'thumbs up' emoji sounds more like criticism.

5. Be friendly and polite

Finally, like with all communication methods, mind your manners! Say 'please' and 'thank you' when making a request. Say 'No problem' when something is being asked of you (as long as you don't mind!). If a customer thanks you, say, 'Always happy to help' or 'You're welcome'. For bonus friendliness points, personalise the text by adding the customer's name. Never assume that customers don't need to hear appreciative phrases. This is a great tip for avoiding multiple problems with text messaging.

Concept of person texting using emojis

Avoid miscommunication in business text messaging

Text messaging can empower your business, provided that you pay attention to the type of content you're sending out and how it's likely to be perceived. The smallest problem with text messages you send out can have catastrophic effects.

Be conscious of the fact that you don't have access to facial expressions, emotional cues, and body language, and can thus easily cause a text misunderstanding. Only use SMS for purposes where a quick message will suffice, like promotional campaigns, simple customer service messages, alerts, and certain types of internal communications.

When sending out business texts, follow the tips mentioned above to ensure you set the right tone, stay professional, and satisfy your customers.

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