Does the smiley face have a place in the PR workplace?

Does this situation sound familiar? You’re writing an email to a colleague. In the note, you discuss business, of course. But, at the tail end you make a smart ass remark–and you feel the need to use, yes, the smiley face emoticon.

What do you do?

Emoticons like the smiley face have made tremendous headway into businesses the last few years. It seems like just a few years ago, smiley faces were merely relegated to text messages. Then, they started showing up on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Now, they appear regularly in business emails every day.

Is that devaluing business communication?

Does it impact your perception of the sender of that message?

Does it make the sender of the message seem younger or more immature?

Or, is it a way to humanize our email communications throughout the day?

Is it a way to have a little fun in what can be an unbearably dreary workday?

Is it a way to put a little personality into our business communication?

The basic question is this: Are emoticons OK in the professional workplace?

My thinking: It depends.

If I’m writing an email to the CEO of a key client? No, absolutely not. I want that email to be taken seriously–and it needs to have a buttoned up, professional feel to it.

But, if I’m writing an email to my client that I’ve known for years. A client that’s also a friend, of sorts that I see outside of the workplace. And, it’s a note that’s a bit more light-hearted in nature. Yeah, then I think it’s perfectly OK to use them.

I should say, I probably err on the side of being more “chummy” with a lot of my business contacts. In some cases, people might say I lack professionalism. But, I would say, I’m building relationships. As a consultant, I know people want to work with people they like. It’s pretty hard to do that if people see me as a business consultant robot who’s not capable of having fun or showing personality. So, I see smiley faces and the like as a way to lighten up business conversations from time to time.

What do you think? Are smiley faces OK to use in your business email communications?

Note: Photo courtesy of somegeekintn via FlickR Creative Commons.

13 comments
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gearsandshifts
gearsandshifts

Great article, Arik! As a young woman, I avoid using emoticons with anyone other than very close colleagues, and I especially avoid using them around anyone senior to me. I worry that using emoticons may diminish my image as a competent communicator and professional. Perhaps my fear is unfounded...but I think women have more to worry about when it comes to their image at work. (For example, the Atlantic just published a really interesting article about how men perceive women who negotiate. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/12/dont-just-ask-why-women-dont-negotiate/249368/

Charlotte74
Charlotte74

Email can be difficult, it can be difficult to judge someone's tone, and this can lead to misunderstandings. I'm a bit of a stickler and I think if it's not clear either say it differently or don't say it - no need for a smilie or seven exclamation marks!!!!! ;)

n_rowe
n_rowe

@kellybaita I get an abrupt one liner (usually in the subject box) with an emoticon, where's that factor? Lol

Nikki Little
Nikki Little

Like you said, it humanizes the communication and allows you to inject some personality/fun into business conversations. But, it's important to know when smiley faces (I'd add exclamation points in the discussion, too) are an appropriate addition to an online conversation.

If I know the person I'm corresponding with is pretty buttoned up and I don't know him/her very well outside of business context, I definitely won't use a smiley face. I may add an exclamation point after a "thank you" or "talk to you soon," but I feel that's less likely to be taken out of context than a smiley face.

It definitely has to be on a case-by-case basis. I fully admit that I 100% embrace the use of exclamation points and smiley faces in online conversations. I'm a happy person, I hate dry convos and frankly I like using exclamation points! But, I also know when emoticons and exclamation points aren't appropriate.

kellynner
kellynner

As an intern, I never use emoticons, even though I regularly use them when talking to my friends. I am very young so anything that will make me seem younger/unprofessional is something I stay very far away from. Additionally, I'm an editor and adhere to strict writing codes.

BridgetMonroe
BridgetMonroe

I follow the other person's lead -- if he/she drops an emoticon in an email, I might do so too in the future. Same with exclamation points.

arikhanson
arikhanson moderator

@gearsandshifts That's a very interesting article--thanks for sharing. And I think your point is well taken. To be honest, I fight the same perceptions locally. I'll be 40 next Aug, but I probably don't look too much over 28 to most folks. So, I've taken to working my age into the conversation early on with new clients and acquaintances. Not comparing my "plight" here--just sympathizing a bit on the age front. Thanks for the comment!

kellybaita
kellybaita

@n_rowe read the article! It's about smiley faces possibly being inappropriate in business. I disagree. Everyone's so grumpy these days :):)

jeffespo
jeffespo

@arikhanson I use them all over the place #bam I kind of digg the Miss State one in teh endzone