Tracy Petrucci: Emoticons in Business Communicating

Monday, November 28, 2011

Emoticons in Business Communicating

This morning The Today Show reported on emoticons and whether or not they should be used in business communication. First let me state that I am not an emoticon user in general. With that said, I was still very disappointed with the bias in The Today Show report.

People seemed to agree that emoticons can help clarify a feeling or mood to a statement, however the report concluded in talking to business peers or superiors, they are a big NO. I think what was misleading was the "research" they did to come to this conclusion, as it was pretty silly.

The reporter wrote an email to her boss in a completely unprofessional manner. It started with OMG and used shortcuts like "u" instead of "you" and used vocabulary I'm pretty sure nobody would use with their corporate boss. She said she was sad because her sister's cat died and she needed all of the holidays off of work, and of course she threw a sad face emoticon in there to make it relevant.

The bosses response was understandably very negative. They asked him what he thought of the email and he said, "Not Good."

Of course it was not good!

Comparing the response to the use of an emoticon in an email, to the kind of email this reporter wrote is ridiculous. In fact when I was in business school one of my management professors lectured on the occasional importance of emoticons in business today, seeing as the landscape of communication is so different now.

My personal opinion is emoticons can be very annoying at times. The happy face can become redundant when used to reinforce an obviously happy statement, and they seem to become more annoying if someone uses them all the time. For some reason the sad face does not bother me as much, probably based on the simple subconscious nature of empathy.

But I do think these symbols have their place. When you need to add a little warmth to something, they can do the trick. I also think the sad face can take the degree of serious down a notch or two as well, although in business I'd avoid the sad face at all costs.

I know someone who is a big user of emoticons. As I said, I rarely use them, but I have to admit when things could be tense otherwise, her using smiley faces really changes my attitude about what she's saying, and makes me think about how mature she actually is for trying to keep things of a certain tone, while I tend to respond in quick, short sentences. I know, I know. Mature and emoticons don't seem to go together, but I honestly believe that when some people use them in certain contexts, they can do wonders.

My advice:
Don't use them unless it's actually necessary. There's no reason to follow up a nice statement like, "Have a nice day" with a smiley face. And an exclamation point alone can add the emotion that you're happy if you choose to use one of those.

An example where it might make someone feel better is when you want to reinforce that you are being authentic in what you say.

"I'm sorry I was so late today, the accident on the freeway really backed things up."

The response "It's ok, it happens," could leave the late person wondering how you really feel about it. It's up for interpretation, that's the nature of email and text communication. By simply adding a smiley face, it helps back up your response as genuine.

Also, if someone else seems to rely on emoticons in the way they determine what you're saying, by all means, follow suit if it will help you communicate more effectively.

Tailor your tonality with each person as they require it. Some people will never use an emoticon and never need you to either. Others will! Everyone is different and I don't think the same rules can apply in every situation.

Good luck out there in emoticon land.

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