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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 September 16, 2020

    3 Simple Signs of a Strong and Healthy Relationship

    3 Simple Signs of a Strong and Healthy Relationship

    In helping many people solve their relationship woes, I am often asked for the signs of a good relationship.

    Well, what’s fascinating about relationships is the dynamics of two individuals coming together and staying together amid an array of perceptions and misperceptions.

    Our relationships are not only influenced by our current actions but also by our past relationships and the life experiences that we bring forward into the current relationship. How we deal with misperceptions and misunderstandings determines the strength and health of our relationship and the level of happiness we are able to experience.

    Much of the subconscious programming that takes place throughout our life causes us to sabotage our happiness by preventing us from engaging effectively, especially when we become emotionally triggered.

    These mostly unconscious “scripts,” which we tend to run on autopilot, include our thoughts, words, and actions that result from these. Some may even refer to them as “baggage.” While we can rewrite these scripts and stop them from contaminating our relationships, we only become aware of them when we are in an emotionally empowered state.

    So, what are the signs of a good relationship?

    It boils down to these four essential requirements:

    • Emotional empowerment
    • Aligned attraction
    • Sexual functioning
    • You and your partner

    While we can take it upon ourselves to develop as an individual, a strong and healthy relationship results from both personal growth and teamwork with our partner in order to resolve any problems.

    Let’s take a look at how we can do this.

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    1. Emotional Empowerment

    A clear sign of a good relationship is that both partners stay focused on what they want to create and how they want to feel. It can be too easy to blame our partner when we’re not feeling good about ourselves or somewhat overwhelmed with the curveballs that life seems to throw at us continually.

    You may have heard of the saying, “Making mountains out of molehills.” When we’re not in charge of our emotional state, that’s precisely what we do!

    Someone also said, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Our words and the emotional power behind them are either being constructive or destructive in our relationships.

    By trying to override your emotions and dredging up past situations, you may blow a current situation entirely out of context, keep retriggering yourself and your partner, and prevent essential issues from being resolved. Aside from that, it makes you feel disconnected.

    As a reminder, allowing yourself to indulge in petty annoyances and sarcastic comments will likely drive a wedge between you and your partner. So, is that worth your attention?

    When we focus on what we don’t want, we continually default to the old subconscious programming cultivated from our life experiences. These “scripts” can become self-destructive when expressed through negative rumination and self-talk or critical observations of our partner, rather than being the fun, uplifting, and naturally motivating partner that they fell in love with.

    Many couples start competing against each other when they are emotionally triggered instead of supporting each other to create the best outcome. While we can quickly become obsessed with being right (or not being wrong), it’s essential to stay present, focus on how we want to feel, and align our words and actions toward that outcome.

    Couples who enjoy a strong and healthy relationship consciously monitor their emotional states and can therefore influence the impact of their verbal and non-verbal communication in a positive manner. This offers a long-term benefit of enhancing their overall desire to be together and connect on more intimate levels.[1]

    2. Attraction in Alignment

    Known as the love and bonding hormone, oxytocin doesn’t just play an important role in intimacy. In truth, it’s also vital for increasing trust and attraction between two people. Synthesized in the human brain when you trust someone, the oxytocin molecule also motivates reciprocation.

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    We’re living in an age where an individual’s independence is ruling the day, and the social codes of chivalry have become sadly redundant. However, it’s never a good time to become complacent in how we interact with each other and in respecting the environment we share.

    According to Paul Zak, a neuroscientist and researcher at Claremont Graduate University, oxytocin is generated in the brain only after some concrete event or action, such as someone making way for you in the street.[2]

    “When someone does something nice for you such as holding a door, your brain releases oxytocin, and it down-regulates the appropriate fear you have of interacting with strangers.” — Paul Zak

    Suddenly, you feel like the person in front of you is not a threat. Then, according to Zak, this feeling disappears quickly for a good reason,

    “If you just had high levels of oxytocin, you would be giving away resources to every stranger on the street. So, this is a quick on/off system.”

    This has important implications for those in a relationship. Zak says:

    “If you treat me well, in most cases my brain will synthesize oxytocin and this will motivate me to treat you well in return.”

    In a relationship, our actions and behaviors are either attracting or repelling our partner. This is especially true when we have conflicting values. Common conflicting values include personal hygiene, health and fitness, and general tidiness.

    It’s important to know and respect what’s important to our partner. After all, one of the real signs of a good relationship is having the desire to continually step up and live your “A” game.[3] When our partner takes the time to communicate something important to them, we need to acknowledge that it’s essential to keep a relationship long-term.

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    While we like to think that our partner will be attracted to us no matter what, this is not realistic at all. “A” is for attraction, and we need to keep attracting our partner instead of being lazy and pretending we can get away with unappealing or inappropriate behaviors.

    Any unresolved issue can build up resentment and undermine the quality of a relationship. However, the thought of approaching a challenging topic can increase stress and anxiety to the point where it is nearly impossible to clearly communicate the problem without it sounding like an accusation or blame.

    Due to the fear of retriggering our partner by bringing up the same topic repeatedly, we often delay dealing with the issues that are of utmost importance to us. Over time, it can result in frustration, annoyance, and disconnection. We are sentient beings, so this type of emotional resistance can often be felt by the other person.

    Furthermore, we usually communicate a part of a request out loud and then complete the reasoning behind it internally. Unfortunately, our partner doesn’t hear this internal monologue, so they have no idea about the extent or importance of our need. Therefore, many problems aren’t fully discussed, and the main issue remains unresolved.

    “Prolonged stress and anxiety are like poison to oxytocin,” Paul Zak said. The underlying biological hypothesis is that stress — particularly the type that does not have a clear ending point — inhibits oxytocin release.

    In a healthy relationship, both partners can retain the desire to step up and continue to attract each other through verbal and non-verbal communication. Try remembering the following:

    • Every person has their own preference for how things are done, so effective communication requires actively listening as well as clearly communicating your needs.
    • Before talking about an important matter, make sure you have your partner’s full attention. Then, try to keep your words focused in the here and now.
    • Instead of rehashing a similar experience from your past for context and risking triggering each other emotionally, get to the point and explain what you want at once. If you feel uncomfortable doing that, try starting a request with “I like it when…” or “It makes me feel…” You may also ask, “How can we work together to create a win-win situation?”
    • If something is important enough for your partner to mention out loud, then you must respect, consider, and adhere to it whenever possible. For example, if a partner is brave enough to open up about their need for sexual intimacy to feel more connected, it may be an issue that needs to be addressed in your relationship.

    According to psychiatrist and Emory University professor Larry Young, increased intimacy can strengthen your connection as a couple, especially when you combine it with other rewarding experiences that get your brain’s reward system going.[4]

    Verbally appreciate your partner’s effort in supporting your needs and make sure to retain your individuality and interests outside the relationship to keep your mutual attraction.

    3. Sexual Function

    Sex is the one thing that differentiates a strong, healthy relationship from a platonic friendship. Sexual intimacy is one of the most important signs of a good relationship and has often been described as the glue that holds a relationship together.

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    Sexual intimacy allows two people who seek the ultimate connection with each other to come together. However, intimacy problems can lead to separation, loneliness, and disconnection — feelings that can eventually tear a relationship apart.

    Unfulfilling sex leads to an increase in stress hormones which results in a lowered libido as sexual intimacy becomes a souce of discomfort on all levels. A common cause of a low libido is, for example, sexual function issues such as early ejaculation and erectile dysfunction challenges in men; and orgasmic dysfunction for women.[5] An unwanted sexual technique such as hard and fast or constant changes of position can also be off-putting.

    While work stress, children rearing, and communication issues can all lower your libido and affect your overall desire for sex, a sexless marriage or relationship is not favorable for the vast majority of couples long-term.

    One of the most important things for women in a relationship is to experience a sense of connection or feel loved and close to their partner. But this is where things can become tricky pretty quickly, considering women naturally have much higher levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin than men. For men, higher levels of oxytocin are generated through intimate connections.

    What is the takeaway here, you may ask? Our hormones influence our behaviors, and oxytocin is said to be responsible for allowing us to experience love. In reality, studies have also shown that oxytocin can even work as the brain’s “moral molecule.” The more intimate moments we have, the more our bodies release the said hormone.

    This is especially important for a male to feel more connected and attentive toward his partner. Research indicates that a man who is often sexually intimate with his beloved can produce increased levels of oxytocin.[6] In turn, it boosts his desire to hold and connect with his partner and stimulate positive social interaction.

    A positive sign of a strong and healthy relationship is both partners’ desire to be intimate with each other. If either of the partners has little or no desire for initiating intimacy, then they need to address the issues mentioned in this article to restore intimacy in order to enjoy a truly fulfilling partnership.

    Final Thoughts

    The most important sign of being in a strong and healthy relationship is that you feel happy within yourself and in your connections.

    While it’s not always possible to stay happy and connected with someone, ensuring that you are emotionally aligned with yourself and aware of your partner’s needs will go a long way to guarantee the health and longevity of your relationship.

    After all, compelling narratives also cause oxytocin release and can affect your attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.

    More on Maintaining a Healthy Relationship

    Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

    Reference

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