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Blog : Emoticons - does ‘emotional shorthand’ have its place in business?


Emoticons - does ‘emotional shorthand’ have its place in business?

By Jane Sunley - CEO

In general, the use of emoticons, most commonly the smiley :-), is regarded as unprofessional and even ‘a bit girlie’. However, as a professional, non-girlie business leader, I’d like to come out in support of the use of these symbols at work and I’ll tell you why.

Thanks to text messaging, Twitter ‘tweets’ and a generally more busy climate, people want their information faster, more simply and succinctly - this applies to written as well as verbal communication.

Therefore they often don’t have time to go into detailed explanations and pleasantries on email. It’s all about fast communication; so sometimes these messages can come across as blunt and cold.

I have to admit, I’m often a primary offender here, especially within our business. Even though I care for our purple people deeply and respectfully, I habitually omit greetings, pleasantries or even a friendly sign off. I do, however, make sure people know to expect this from me though, quite often, I also make an effort to add a pleasantry or some humour through the use of emoticons. They’re emotional shorthand; beautifully quick, with a picture speaking many words; which can overall prove very useful. 

When an email is objectively positive, the receiver thinks it’s neutral.Neutral emails are often perceived as negative and negative emails (which, by the way, you should ban and pick up the phone or go face-to-face) can come across as downright antagonistic. If you were delivering the same message face-to-face, you’d be able to enhance and soften the content through use of vocal tone and facial impressions. If you do an internet search of this subject, you’ll see that numerous studies show that people in general have a natural negative bias toward email.  

This is why I say we should use emoticons.

So much of communication is to do with visual aspects and auditory tone that merely delivering a message through email makes the content very literal and the tone is open to interpretation.  In a face-to-face meeting, it’s pretty clear what the emotion and tone of the interaction is, on the phone there are intonation and vocal tone to give vital clues.

 So adding a simple emoticon can set the tone, providing a visual clue to the nature of the communication. It removes some of the guess work and allows the sender to create rapport and build a relationship with the recipient.

As a very simple example:

‘I received feedback from the client  :-)’

 is somewhat different to

‘I received feedback from the client ’

With the latter leaving the recipient to decide whether this is a good or bad thing – referring back to the previous paragraph; most will automatically assume the negative. 

Whereas with use of an emoticon, the email can say “I’m not in a bad mood or mad at you – I’m just busy”. It can even help enhance the leader as a thoughtful, authentic, humorous and caring person; creating a special bond between sender and recipient (though keep this to appropriate levels and certainly don’t overdo it by using the kissy, huggy ones - that really wouldn’t be suitable).

Whilst I’m not advocating peppering all professional business emails with smiley faces, they can provide a human touch to a pretty bland medium of communication. They’re particularly useful in informal external communications with people with whom you already have a relationship and who would find it acceptable, as well as for internal use. Here are my top tips for warming up your written communication with the use of emoticons :

1.       Keep it professional – if in doubt don’t use them

2.       Use them only if there’s a definite purpose

3.       Avoid over use – less is more

4.       Keep it simple – no need to download swathes of options

5.       Read the message before you send it – in case it could be misconstrued

6.       Put yourself in the other person’s shoes

7.       If you’re tempted to use the ‘frowny face’ :-( ditch the mail and pick up the phone

What’s your view?  :-) emoticons? :-( them?

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