In most contexts, I use “lol”s like punctuation marks. Merriam-Webster knows and accepts many text abbreviations now and, for the most part, we do too. But does your boss?
When is it appropriate to use “brb” or “ofc” in the workplace? Who can you use it with? One anonymous FGB’er asked the Fairygodboss Community to share their thoughts on using text abbreviations at work, and their responses lay the foundation for three key rules.
1. Save abbreviations for more informal types of communication, like instant messenger or Slack.
Almost all of the commenters agreed: using text abbreviations should be reserved for informal forms of communication, such as G-Chat or Slack. Meanwhile, communication like email should remain more formal, skipping the abbreviations and emojis.
"There is definitely a difference between IM-ing and email to me! I think it's okay to send emojis through IM, for example, but not through email," one anonymous reporter wrote to a chorus of "Same!" comments.
"I believe abbreviations should be used informally, in texts and IM," IT Consultant Jennifer wrote. "Formal communications have to be in proper grammar and spelling. Reputation is everything."
2. Then, gauge your relationship with the person.
Now, before you send that "JK" or "FWIW" over slack, commenters suggest gauging your relationship with the person on the receiving end. Are you close friends or is your relationship more formal? Most commenters advise only sending abbreviations to those you're close to — and avoiding using them with your boss or other senior members of your team.
"I try not to abbreviate unless I really know the person well enough that it's that casual of a conversation. I think it's case-by-case," FGB'er Olivia Oz wrote.
"I generally don't abbreviate unless I have a solid relationship with the person I'm messaging," FGB'er Cyndi Peterson Hash echoed.
3. If an abbreviation isn’t super well known, skip it.
Even when you're close to the person on the receiving end of your instant message, it's still important to make sure you're communicating clearly. You don't want your colleague to misunderstand a message or get frustrated with your tendency to use weird acronyms for everything. In general, if an abbreviation isn't universal, skip it. Abbreviations like "lol" or "fyi" are probably safe. Others, like ofc (of course), aren't. I'm speaking from experience here. My colleague thought I was slipping an f-bomb into "of course" when I sent her "ofc" for weeks on end when I first started this role. Big whoops.
FGB'er Ruth M.Ed. wrote that she uses this policy in her personal communication: "I don't abbreviate, often times it confuses people. I tend to spell out the word."
And an anonymous FGB'er shared a canonized reason why spelling out abbreviations is usually a good idea: An episode of The Office.
"I just saw the episode of The Office where Michael Scott starts a meeting by saying acronyms and no one understands them, so Pam tells him that it wasted more time for him to explain them than it would've to just say what he meant. This is a little different than what you're pointing to, but it does speak to the fact that we shouldn't use them at work if we can help it," the FGB'er wrote.
Overall, it seems like even in 2020, you need to be careful with how you use text abbreviations at work. Following these rules is sure to help; although there's one golden rule of all technology that may be an even more useful guide: someone is always watching.