Careers

4 things to consider before sharing your phone number with a co-worker

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Alistair Berg | Digital Vision | Getty Images

Before you send that funny meme or photo to a co-worker, pause — even if it's from your personal phone.

Though a snarky text message can seem harmless (and discreet), there are plenty of examples of presumed-private communications impacting the careers of both the sender and recipient. Recently, the New York Times reported on a situation at City Ballet in which two dancers were fired after sharing photos of another dancer.

"I'm a big proponent of not putting anything in writing — whether that's in bits and bytes or on paper — that you would not want your spouse, parents or boss to see," Thomas P. Farley, a New York-based etiquette expert and speaker, tells CNBC Make It.

This is not to say that being friends with your colleagues is off the table, but you'll still want to be thoughtful about how you communicate digitally with the people you work with and for.

Here's what to consider before you hit send:

1. Understand the potential consequences

Any inappropriate or harmful messages could lead to disciplinary action at work, even if the communication took place off- campus.

"If you're using your cell phone for work purposes, that can be confiscated and used against you," says Jacqueline Whitmore, business etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach. "It's just like ranting and raving on social media about your job."

Even if your job is not on the line, your co-workers opinions of you may be.

"Your character is your character, whether you're working or not," says Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder and president of the etiquette school of New York. "Everything will be evaluated."

2. Choose wisely

If you're going to give your number to some co-workers, or add them on social media, it's best to make the same offer available to all of your co-workers, Farley said. You don't want to be exclusive, which could create a hostile work environment.

The same goes for event invites: If a group of you are going out after work, make sure the offer is extended to all who may want to join.

3. Text like a professional

If you're expected to communicate over text for work, use complete sentences, and stay away from emojis — especially if you're communicating with your boss. Before texting a colleague, ask if that's their preferred method of communication. Otherwise, tread lightly.

"I would only text in cases of urgency or emergency," says Whitmore. "If it can wait, let it wait."

If you are given the green light to text, make sure that you consider your time-zone and that of the recipient before hitting send. "Most people keep phones by their beds," Whitmore said. This means that if you aren't careful, you could inadvertently send a message at an inappropriate hour and disturb your co-worker or boss.

And while it can be difficult to avoid, talking about a co-worker — and leaving a digital record — could land you in the most hot water. "You never know where ears are and you never know where eyes are," says Farley.

4. Be ready to own up and apologize

Last but not least, if you make a mistake and accidentally send a co-worker a message that wasn't intended for them, own it. Acknowledge your error, apologize to the individual and put measures in place to prevent it from happening again, says Elaine Swann, lifestyle and etiquette expert and the founder of the Swann School of Protocol in Carlsbad, California.

"It gets rid of the awkwardness later on," says Swann. "The person knows you made a mistake and then they don't have to address it with you."

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