How not to text like a passive-aggressive person

What’s not to love about texting? It’s convenient, quick and quiet. Best — or worst — of all, text messaging enables us to hide behind our true feelings.

Between all of those hashtags and emojis, a new phenomenon has surfaced: passive-aggressive texting. This modern convenience easily can morph into an anxiety-ridden mystery as you look for signs behind a text’s real meaning, question nonsensical acronyms and wonder if using an exclamation mark or a period will change the receiver’s interpretation of your text. (The answer is yes.)

“These delicate decisions consume far too much of my attention, so much that a brief exchange of texts or emails can leave me psychologically depleted for the rest of the day,” said Paul Scott, 52, of Rochester, Minn. “The exclamation point seems to have become officially required in order to not look like you have produced a passive-aggressive text.”

“Texts have such a variety of meanings with a simple change of punctuation,” said Sara Kerr, a business professor at St. Catherine University. “Text messaging makes passive-aggressiveness worse in the same way Internet comment boards breed nasty trolls and vitriolic comments.”

Even when we try to be direct in our messages, texting is limiting. Without facial expressions, body language and the tone of someone’s voice, we often assume the worst.

“There’s so much misunderstanding that occurs through this medium just because there’s not a universal approach to it,” said Luke Youngvorst, a doctoral student/instructor at the University of Minnesota. “There is ambiguity to texting and we’re left to our own perceptions.”

Academic research has tried to help by interpreting the effect of punctuation (hint: don’t use periods) in text messages, and the impact of emojis (hint: use them!).

So, can the problem be fixed? With the help of expert communicators and millennials (after all, they send 67 texts a day, on average) we came up with a universal approach on how not to text:

1. Lose the attitude, i.e. the period. If you want to be less passive-aggressive, start by rejecting the most basic punctuation mark. A Binghampton University study found that text messages ending with a period are perceived as less sincere. Study participants said that "Sure" is a term of agreement, whereas "Sure." with a period is passive-aggressive indifference.

“Ending a text with a period seems like cutting off communication entirely, as if to say, ‘conversation over,’?” Youngvorst said. “We read into the use of periods, because it shows the sender purposefully went out of their way to add a period to a message that otherwise would’ve been fine without it.”

2. Use more emojis. Love them or hate them, emojis are here to stay. We now have hundreds of tiny icons to help convey everything from sadness to applause.

“Emojis can soften or accentuate the meaning of something,” Kerr said. They help reduce ambiguity.”

3. Use the exclamation mark. Intended or not, periods and exclamation marks change our meanings. The exclamation point is similar to an emoji — it implies an opinion or feeling.

“I always try to convey enthusiasm, happiness in excitement. For that reason I use a lot of emojis and exclamation points,” said Emma Dunn, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. “If I read a text message from someone else and I am unsure of meaning or tone, I have to text for reassurance that nothing is wrong.”

4. A letter isn't just a letter. A text with a single letter can imply that the sender doesn't have time for you. A "K" with a period might as well be a middle-finger emoji.

5. Change your expectations. Text messages are intended to be short. They're a quick way to communicate, so unless you're texting your boss, you don't have to be formal, and neither does the sender. Unless it's being used to convey emotion, punctuation is pointless. If you do receive a text chock-full of K's, yups and periods, calm down — everything is probably OK.

When it doubt, just make a phone call.