Communication is a delicate skill and there is a time and a place for using an emoji.
As smartphones have become our preferred way to communicate, emoticons are popping up everywhere. From your boss to your grandmother, it seems everyone includes an emoji as part of their message. It’s a reality of living in today’s culture and it’s important to know how to use these funny little characters properly so you aren’t inadvertently sending the wrong message.
The wrong emoji—or one used at an inappropriate time—can make your words confusing, unprofessional or ambiguous.
The Case for Emoticons
Before emojis became a widespread trend, people relied on the written word to convey meaning. Emails and texts are now commonplace and the smart phone is an important means of communication. In the absence of seeing someone’s expression or hearing their tone of voice, a recent study found emojis can help compensate for the non-verbal cues lacking in written communication. Another survey determined roughly 61 percent of senior managers are fine with emojis like a smiley face or “OK” hand sign most of the time.
On the other hand, a different study determined smiley face emoticons in emails may negatively impact how others perceive the sender. They can create perceptions of incompetence and inhibit the exchange of information.
So what’s the right answer? Be judicious in your use of the happy little images. While they can create warmth and connection, they can also turn others off and appear unprofessional in the wrong circumstances. Use the following tips as your guide:
Thumbs Up: Emoji Do’s
- Responding to a text message from a friend: Especially if you receive a text full of emojis, it’s always safe to include a few emoticons in your casual text messages. “I can’t wait to see you!” is even more sincere when you add a heart, smiley face or a hug.
- To soften a strong or potentially awkward message: For the times when words alone may come across as harsh, an appropriate emoji will tone it down. For instance, a light hearted smiley face softens the message of, “I’d prefer you ask me next time before you invite your sister to dinner.”
- When you want to quickly acknowledge a message: A thumbs up emoji or a dancing lady or man is the perfect way to respond to “I can’t wait to go dancing tonight!”
- To come appear more personable: According to a recent survey, 75% of workers want to use emojis to show their personality and emphasize their emotions.
- Your boss texts you in emojis and the environment is relaxed: It’s becoming more common to use emoji-friendly media such as Slack and Google Apps for business. Emojis may be commonplace in your workplace. Use caution, however as they can also come across as unprofessional or immature in the wrong context. Your supervisor (or your client) is your guide; communicate accordingly.
- Expressing an emotion clearly: Nothing beats an emoji to show your true feelings. “Ugh, we’re out of coffee again!”
Thumbs Down: Emoji Don’ts
- Communicating heartfelt sympathy: An emoji can seem out of place when responding to tragic news, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
- When you are cowardly breaking up with someone by text: First rule: Don’t break up by a text message! And certainly don’t do it with a few broken heart emojis included with the words, “It’s just not working out!”
- To share difficult news: No, there’s no good way to let someone know by emoji, “Oops, I accidentally hit your car in the parking lot.”
- Announcing a divorce: Navigating social media after a divorce can be tricky. Stick to the facts, stay positive and don’t include an emoticon. A matter of fact, it’s better to make a personal call.
- You aren’t familiar with your client’s personal preference: When in doubt in the workplace, skipping the emoji is always the safer choice.
- When you are unsure about meaning or platform: Many emojis change over different platforms and the message you are attempting to deliver may be misconstrued. You also may think you are sending “jazz hands” when you are really sending a hug. There are several emojis which are often misrepresented and it’s worthwhile to do a little research before you hit send. Bottom line: think carefully before sending an emoji.
For more of Diane’s etiquette tips, you may enjoy Strategies for Becoming a Better Communicator. Read her posts on Inc., subscribe to her articles on HuffPost, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Buy her new book, Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.