I received an invitation to connect professionally on Linked In and it was signed with a smiley face. This struck me as strange (and a little off-putting) because as far as I’m concerned, Linked In has always been a pretty formal setting for networking in a very adult business world. The smiley face didn’t set well with me. It felt like bringing a glittery star sticker or a friendship bracelet to a job interview.
That got me to thinking about emoticons and whether they ever have a place in any kind of professional setting. Surely I’ve closed E-mails with smiley faces when the news was good or frowny faces when I was documenting a sick call, but was that the right move?
So let’s break down the pros and cons.
The benefits of showing your face
1) It can come across as friendly and casual
This could be the mood you want in your professional correspondence. If it is, go for it, but make absolutely sure you want to send that kind of message. If you look too lax, you might not get the results you’re looking for, or the message may be dismissed as friendly rather than professional.
2) Takes the sting out of bad news
If you have to put someone immediately at ease, the best way to handle it face-to-face is a smile, so why not over E-mail? For example, if you are putting a hold on a project or telling a position candidate that they aren’t moving to the next round, that little emoticon could be an encouraging pat on the back.
1) You could come across as immature
Remember that thing I said about bringing a friendship bracelet to a job interview? Emoticons can effortlessly and wordlessly convey tone, but they are also used by fourteen-year-old girls in text messages. Do you really want that mental association tied to your message?
2) Really easy to misinterpret the message
Consider the following sentences:
- See you tomorrow
- See you tomorrow :-)
- See you tomorrow ;-)
Those tiny little punctuation marks makes the message go from matter-of-fact to friendly to almost flirty. That is a line you definitely do not want to mess around with.
The bottom line
It’s probably not worth the risk of misinterpretation. Especially in professional communication when E-mail is your first contact with a client, prospective customer, or partner.
Also while you’re at it, don’t “poke” on facebook. It’s creepy.