Via Phoenix Business Journal : “It’s been a busy week and I was not able to properly respond to your question till now :-(.” I inserted the colon/dash/left parentheses in my email without a thought. The colleague I was emailing needed an answer to a question sooner, and I was feeling a bit guilty about not getting to it them sooner. The basic sad-face emoticon was a quick and efficient way to acknowledge my sadness about the delay. His response started with “Understood, last month was like that for me :-). The smiley face combined with his words quickly said all was good, my apology acknowledged and sympathy extended.
When did emoticons move from texts between kids to shorthand in business emails? Granted, it is not common in formal correspondences. But in informal exchanges between people that know each other well, it has become a tool that I’m seeing more and more often. The real question is: Are emoticons in business a good thing? I think so.
The written word in the West evolved along phonetic lines, alphabets that spell out spoken words instead of pictograms. This is not true in the rest of the world. This was first driven home when I saw a Chinese colleague communicating with one of our vendors in China over WeChat. They were both using emoticons as much as Chinese characters. I asked why and he said, “we already use symbols to communicate, emoticons are even more condensed and quickly convey context to what we are saying.” I’d always thought of them as a way for kids to be different from their parents, not as an effective way to communicate meaning we would use tone of voice or facial expressions to convey if we were face-to-face.
The advantage of a symbol is that you can transfer far more information with less effort. We already use abbreviations and multi-letter acronyms to save time and condense meaning, why not use symbols to convey emotions. That is what emoticons are – emotional icons. Although, the pallet has been expanded to include dogs, fruit, flags, hand gestures, and cars.
For personal communication, emotion plays a stronger role and brevity imparts a closeness between the parties talking. But that informal nature is why some business people don’t approve of them in official communications. I think back to my business class in high school, Mr. Simpkins went on for an entire class about how important it was to type a professional letter in business. But we use written communication far more often now with emails and texts, and newer collaboration platforms like Slack.
It all comes down to efficiency. I can spend time crafting a lengthy response as to my sadness over dropping the ball, or I can put it in a single simple emoticon. And I appreciate it from others, it helps me understand where we are, what the commitment and/or frustration level is, and where their head is at. Try it :-), you may like it ;-).