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This is How The Use of Emojis Can Shape Our Impressions

This is How The Use of Emojis Can Shape Our Impressions

If you’ve ever been tempted to include a smiley face in work correspondence, you aren’t alone. A recent survey found that around 76% of American workers use emoticons or emojis in professional communication.[1]

Knowing when it’s okay to use this communication tool can help you build relationships and save you from misunderstandings. Using them improperly can negatively affect how people view you.

How emojis can affect others’ impressions of you

I have a former colleague, Amanda, who communicated with me mostly via text message. She worked from home most days, and this was the fastest and easiest way for us to stay in touch. Amanda had a signature texting style. Whenever I asked her to confirm whether she understood something, or if I double-checked make sure that she received a document from me, she replied using her three favorite emojis: Smirk, Laugh Cry and Okay with a Laugh.

    Texting with Amanda so often led me to develop some impressions about her. I assumed that because she used emojis in her correspondence, she must be funny and relaxed. Even when we discussed serious matters, such as confirming the budget with clients or discussing the direction of our work, she used emojis. Over time, I began to wonder whether she took her job seriously.

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    It didn’t matter that Amanda had great ideas and did amazing work. I had a hard time taking her seriously because replying with Laugh Cry (or any of her other favorites, for that matter) didn’t seem professional at all. Researchers have found that my impression of Amanda wasn’t unique. Their research concluded that study participants considered senders who used emojis to be less competent than their more traditional counterparts.[2]

    Emoji-based impressions can be deceiving

    When I met Amanda for the first time, I was completely blown away. It felt like I had been texting a different person. She was in a tailored black suit, and she carried a briefcase like a top-tier professional.

    When she gave her presentation, she impressed everyone in the office. She outlined the budget, offered suggestions based on marketing data, and displayed projections for the upcoming year in a series of graphs. She was confident and answered our questions by citing her research during the Q&A portion of her talk. She had truly done her homework. If you imagine the ideal business presentation, that was what she gave.

    There was nothing playful about Amanda’s presentation. She epitomized professionalism. Surely this was not the same person who insisted on concluding every interaction with a string of smiley faces.

    After that, we conducted a survey about emojis at Lifehack

    After I met Amanda in person, I became more conscientious about my messages at work. I wondered if I gave my colleagues the wrong impression about my work because of the way I used emojis to communicate. I also wondered how using emojis affected my colleagues’ opinions of others.

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    I decided that the best way to figure out how my coworkers viewed people who used emojis was to ask. We use Slack to communicate at the Lifehack office, which means that there are plenty of opportunities for emojis to show up at work every day. I interviewed 40 employees to gather their insights about communication at work.

    I came to some interesting conclusions.

    Serious people tend to use less emotionally involved emojis

    Most of my colleagues noticed that people with higher rank in the office, such as managers, avoid using emotion-related emojis like smirks or smiley faces. This makes their texts seem more serious and professional.

    Whenever a manager does use an emoji, it’s normally to offer appreciation or support. They favored emotion-neutral emojis, such as clapping hands, or items like a bonfire. If it had a face, our managers didn’t bother with it. Connecting emotions to their communication must have seemed too informal for their position.

    My colleagues also agreed that they view sentences without emojis as items that need to be taken seriously. When an emoji is used, it signals that that part of the interaction is supposed to be humorous or entertaining.

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    Creative people can use emojis to form a completely understandable sentence FAST

    Some people take communicating through emojis to a whole new level. They can make simple answers seem more interesting and creative. For example, when we’re trying to decide where we should eat, someone might text an emoji of a burger or sushi roll instead of typing an explanation about what they want.

    Some of my creative colleagues can use emojis to string together complete thoughts without using any words. Once I was waiting for a colleague to show up so that I could start a meeting. I sent out a message over Slack to figure out where he was. One of my team members sent me two emojis: a man running and a toilet. I understood. It was simple, creative, and clear, and we didn’t have to go into the details.

    The key with using emoji creatively is to think quickly. My colleagues said that when they saw someone spending too much time looking for the right series of emojis, it seemed like they were trying too hard. It’s like when you take too long to figure out a joke. By the time you respond, it’s not funny anymore.

    Repeated use = identity

    Just as I learned from Amanda, over-using emojis can become your signature. It’s the same as having a catch phrase or a tag-line, emojis contribute to your identity and others’ impressions of you.

    We have a colleague who loves using the Yummy emoji. Whenever we have to order snacks, we let him choose first because we assume that he’s a foodie and will know where to find the tastiest snacks.

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    Unless you want to be known for a specific personality trait or interest, avoid over-using an emoji.

    Tips for using emojis in workplace communication

    All this discussion with my coworkers led me to a few conclusions about when and how to use emojis at work. Here are the best practices that the Lifehack Team passed on to me:

    • Only use emojis in the opening or closing of a conversation. If you want to say, “Hi,” or end your communication, it is appropriate to include an emoji. This can help to reassure others that you are a human being, but it keeps the body of your work from seeming unprofessional.
    • If you aren’t certain how someone will interpret your text, an emoji can help. So much of our communication is done over text message and email these days. Sometimes it’s challenging to convey tone and meaning with words, but an emoji can help.[3]

    I recently received the style guide for an assignment I was working on, and my collaborator had listed all these strict-sounding guidelines for the job. She included an emoticon at the end of an example that she had given. The emoticon helped me understand that she was trying to lighten the mood, and it reminded me that there was a real person on the other side of the text box.

    • It’s okay to use emojis in casual conversation and when you are building relationships with peers. When you are engaging with your coworkers on some non-work related task, like figuring out where to go to lunch or discussing what to bring to the office picnic, it’s fine to use emojis. Their causal tone can make your communication seem friendlier.

    These are just a few pointers from our small office, but they illustrate the ways that emojis can affect how others perceive us. There’s a time and a place for them, but it may not be at the end of every interaction, nor would including them in the middle of a formal proposal be a good idea.

    Have fun with your emojis. Just be careful about how you use them at work ;)

    Reference

    More by this author

    Brian Lee

    Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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    Last Updated on November 26, 2020

    How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

    How Relationships Building Helps Achieve Career Success

    As playwright Wilson Mizner supposedly said all the way back in the 1930s,

    “Be kind to everyone on the way up; you will meet the same people on the way down.”

    The adage is the perfect prototype for relationship building in 2020, although we may want to expand Mizner’s definition of “kind” to include being helpful, respectful, grateful, and above all, crediting your colleagues along the way.

    5 Ways to Switch on Your Relationship Building Magnetism

    Relationship building does not come easily to all. Today’s computer culture makes us more insular and less likely to reach out—not to mention our new work-from-home situation in which we are only able to interact virtually. Still, relationship building remains an important part of career engagement and success, and it gets better with practice.

    Here are five ways you can strengthen your relationships:

    1. Advocate for Other’s Ideas

    Take the initiative to speak up in support of other team members’ good ideas. Doing so lets others know that the team’s success takes precedence over your needs for personal success. Get behind any colleague’s innovative approach or clever solution and offer whatever help you can give to see it through. Teammates will value your vote of confidence and your support.

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    2. Show Compassion

    If you learn that someone whom you work with has encountered difficult times, reach out. If it’s not someone you know well, a hand-written card expressing your sympathy and hopes for better times ahead could be an initial gesture. If it’s someone with whom you interact regularly, the act could involve offering to take on some of the person’s work to provide a needed reprieve or even bringing in a home-cooked dish as a way to offer comfort. The show of compassion will not go unnoticed, and your relationship building will have found a foothold.

    3. Communicate Regularly

    Make an effort to share any information with team members that will help them do their jobs more effectively. Keeping people in the loop says a lot about your consideration for what others need to deliver their best results.

    Try to discover the preferred mode of communication for each team member. Some people are fine relying on emails; others like to have a phone conversation. And once we can finally return to working together in offices, you may determine that face-to-face updates may be most advantageous for some members.

    4. Ask for Feedback

    Showing your willingness to reach out for advice and guidance will make a positive impression on your boss. When you make it clear that you welcome and can accept pointers, you display candor and trust in what opinions your superior has to offer. Your proclivity towards considering ways of improving your performance and strengthening any working interactions will signal your strong relationship skills.

    If you are in a work environment where you are asked to give feedback, be generous and compassionate. That does not mean being wishy-washy. Try always to give the type of feedback that you wouldn’t mind receiving.

    5. Give Credit Where It’s Due

    Be the worker who remembers to credit staffers with their contributions. It’s a surprisingly rare talent to credit others, but when you do so, they will remember to credit you, and the collective credit your team will accrue will be well worth the effort.

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    How Does Relationship Building Build Careers?

    Once you have strengthened and deepened your relationships, here are some of the great benefits:

    Work Doesn’t Feel So Much Like Work

    According to a Gallup poll, when you have a best friend at work, you are more likely to feel engaged with your job. Work is more fun when you have positive, productive relationships with your colleagues. Instead of spending time and energy overcoming difficult personalities, you can spend time enjoying the camaraderie with colleagues as you work congenially on projects together. When your coworkers are your friends, time goes by quickly and challenges don’t weigh as heavily.

    You Can Find Good Help

    It’s easier to ask for assistance when you have a good working relationship with a colleague. And with office tasks changing at the speed of technology, chances are that you are going to need some help acclimating—especially now that work has gone remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Much of relationship building rests on your genuine expressions of appreciation toward others. Showing gratitude for another’s help or for their willingness to put in the extra effort will let them know you value them.

    Mentors Come Out of the Woodwork

    Mentors are proven to advance your professional and career development. A mentor can help you navigate how to approach your work and keep you apprised of industry trends. They have a plethora of experience to draw from that can be invaluable when advising you on achieving career success and advancement.

    Mentors flock to those who are skilled at relationship building. So, work on your relationships and keep your eyes peeled for a worthy mentor.

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    You Pull Together as a Team

    Great teamwork starts with having an “abundance mentality” rather than a scarcity mentality. Too often, workers view all projects through a scarcity mentality lens. This leads to office strife as coworkers compete for their piece of the pie. But in an abundance mentality mode, you focus on the strengths that others bring rather than the possibility that they are potential competitors.

    Instead, you can commit relationship building efforts to ensure a positive work environment rather than an adversarial one. When you let others know that you intend to support their efforts and contribute to their success, they will respond in kind. Go, team!

    Your Network Expands and So Does Your Paycheck

    Expand your relationship building scope beyond your coworkers to include customers, suppliers, and other industry stakeholders. Your extra efforts can lead to extra sales, a more rewarding career, and even speedy professional advancement. And don’t overlook the importance of building warm relationships with assistants, receptionists, or even interns.

    Take care to build bridges, not just to your boss and your boss’s boss but with those that work under you as well. You may find that someone who you wouldn’t expect will put in a good word for you with your supervisor.

    Building and maintaining good working relationships with everyone you come in contact with can pay off in unforeseen ways. You never know when that underling will turn out to be the company’s “golden child.” Six years from now you may be turning to them for a job. If you have built up a good, trusting work relationship with others along your way, you will more likely be considered for positions that any of these people may be looking to fill.

    Your Job Won’t Stress You Out

    Study shows that some 83 percent of American workers experience work-related stress.[1] Granted, some of that stress is now likely caused by the new pandemic-triggered workplace adjustments, yet bosses and management, in general, are reportedly the predominant source of stress for more than one-third of workers.

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    Having meaningful connections among coworkers is the best way to make work less stressful. Whether it is having others whom to commiserate with, bounce ideas off, or bring out your best performance, friendships strengthen the group’s esprit de corps and lower the stress level of your job.

    Your Career Shines Bright

    Who would you feel better about approaching to provide a recommendation or ask for promotion: a cold, aloof boss with whom you have only an impersonal relationship or one that knows you as a person and with whom you have built a warm, trusting relationship?

    Your career advancement will always excel when you have a mutual bond of friendship and appreciation with those who can recommend you. Consider the plug you could receive from a supervisor who knows you as a friend versus one who remains detached and only notices you in terms of your ability to meet deadlines or attain goals.

    When people fully know your skills, strengths, personality, and aspirations, you have promoters who will sing your praises with any opportunity for advancement.

    Final Thoughts

    At the end of the day, it is “who you know” not “what you know.” When you build relationships, you build a pipeline of colleagues, work partners, team members, current bosses, and former bosses who want to help you—who want to see you succeed.

    At its core, every business is a people business. Making a point to take the small but meaningful actions that build the foundation of a good relationship can be instrumental in cultivating better relationships at work.

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    Featured photo credit: Adam Winger via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The American Institute of Stress: 42 Worrying Workplace Stress Statistics

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