Emojis are none of your business
Emoticons can land you in hot water ☹ if you use them at the wrong time :-o, or sometimes if you use them at all. Are they a vital tool in today’s digital age, or are they for clowns? No matter what side of the age divide, it’s essential for everybody in business to understand emoticon etiquette.
Kids love them and their grandparents can’t stand them – nothing polarises generations quite like emojis and emoticons. Many claim that they simplify communication, others argue they’re lazy and childish.
Anna Musson, etiquette expert and founder of The Good Manners Company, regularly consults to many of Australia’s top 100 organisations around matters of business and social etiquette. The quirky question of emojis has been appearing more regularly on her radar as the colourful little faces have begun invading business correspondence.
Ten years ago, we would have said absolutely no to any use of emojis. But times are changing.
“We've found that for many younger generations, speaking in emojis has become much more of their vernacular,” Anna said. “Naturally their social language spills over into their professional language. This is where we have a grey area, because we have to ask whether it is appropriate.”
Context, Anna explains, is key to understanding whether the injection of smiling, crying, giggling or angry faces into business emails is acceptable or whether one should simply resign themselves to communicating in more traditional and formal black and white format - words and punctuation.
“Ten years ago, we would have said absolutely no to any use of emojis,” she explained. “But times are changing, and because this is language and technology together, we have to be a little bit flexible. So, in a few situations emojis are acceptable.”
In which situations are emojis acceptable?
According to Anna, before anybody thinks of using emojis in a business email, they must consider three things:
- Is the email internal or external?
- Does your boss use emojis?
- What is the age of the recipient of the email, and how well do you know them?
“If it's an internal message, you've got to think about who is the recipient,” she said. “Is it a peer? Is it a colleague? Is it a personal message? If yes, then it's probably fine.
“But if it's an external email to a client, customer, or a supplier, particularly if you don't know them or you would like to have a professional relationship, an emoji is inappropriate.”
What’s your boss got to do with it? “If your boss communicates with you and puts a smiley face at the end of their email, then you can have an understanding that they wouldn't mind if you sent one to them,” explained Anna. “But like the work kiss, make sure your boss does it first.”
Finally, you should consider how well you know the recipient. If you haven’t met or the relationship is very young, use words instead of pictures. But the better you know each other, the more you are likely to use them without repercussion.
A shorthand to eloquence?
Relationships are about the development of a personal shorthand between two people, and emojis may or may not be a part of that.
“Younger generations consider the emoticon a shortcut to expressing the tone of an email,” said Anna. “It’s a shorthand to eloquence. But older generations will articulate tone by using their vocabulary and they consider emojis to be the opposite of eloquence.
“Consider the context and even if you know somebody well, for an email containing serious content or bad news, stay away from the sad face emoticon. A cartoonish crying face doesn’t ever help in a serious situation.”
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.