Friday, November 17, 2017
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What using smiley faces on e-mail does to you

By Tania Ngima

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article on how to make a great first impression whether it was at interview or a networking event. Unsurprisingly, smiling was cited as one of the most effective ways of getting people to warm up to you, including softening delivery of bad news. The article referred to a study that found smiling individuals are seen as warmer and (unexpectedly, at least to me) competent than non-smiling individuals.

However, in a world that communicates digitally more than face to face, the findings of this study show that using smiley faces (smileys) in written communication (such as e-mail, SMS and WhatsApp) has the opposite effect on your professional capabilities. Could you be hurting your credibility by doing this?

Suitable replacements?

While in person, smiles have numerous benefits, using the same in written communication could actually be more harmful than useful. Experiments conducted in this study found that on virtual first-time interactions, smileys do not increase or create any perceptions of warmth. In fact, it was found that they infer a certain level of incompetence. The study also showed that when incompetence was suggested, information sharing was also severely diminished, resulting in barriers to building a relationship. Where an emoji was omitted, e-mail responses were ‘more detailed and included more content-related information’.

Formal or informal

This study focused on initial or first-time contact and recommends that to be on the safe side, omit smileys or emojis. However, as a relationship develops and grows from a formal to an informal one, then the use of emojis should also evolve. Some relationships will always be formal, of course, so the key is to remember that you should err on the side of no-smileys than damage a budding association by adopting an over informal tone. At the end of the day, a smiley is not a smile and should not be used unless the context and formality of the relationship allow it.

Communication smarts

Delivering difficult news or asking for help is unlikely to get easier any time soon. Without smiley faces, we are forced to rely on our written words to convey the emotion we are unable to convey in person. However, where possible, use the face to face option to convey difficult news as e-mail can sound cold and harsh. Where not possible, there are a few tips that can make it a bit easier to tackle tough news. Be sincere, but do not make the e-mail long winded as your message may get lost in the wordiness. Run the draft by someone you trust who can give you feedback on whether your email conveys the right sentiment and the right tone.

Source: Standard Media

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