(:Emoticons:) in Business Writing

:)

When you see colon parenthesis in a text, tweet, e-mail, or IM, you know what it means right away. It’s telling you, “if we were face to face, I’d be smiling while I said this to you.” If there is any doubt about whether the  is supposed to be taken negative or positive, :) or :(  clears it right up.

It’s raining :)

It’s raining :(

The first message might be a gardener in a drought-prone area while the second a might mean a bar-be-que has to be cancelled. Without the emoticon, it’s up the reader to make the judgment about the weather.

In business writing classes I was told not use emoticons in business communication. But I was also taught to be clear about whether something was negative or positive. Since the person you are communicating to can’t  rely on your non-verbal communication (like facial expressions), they are less likely to be able to correctly fill in meaning gaps. So, let me admit something to you: I use emoticons in business writing. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing these days.

I’m generally a smiley person which allows me to be direct in a way that might be off-putting if I wasn’t smiling (or so I’ve been told.) As a result, I use the smiley face emoticon quite a bit. I wouldn’t use it in a resume, cover-letter, resignation letter, or early in an e-mail relationship. (Can you imagine, “Dear client: Here is my first invoice :)?”  But I do use them  in IMs and e-mails with both internal and external audiences.

Does it look unprofessional and lazy? Maybe. But maybe it also looks efficient and savvy. It respects my readers time and trusts that they understand well-established shorthand.

Suppose I respond to a client’s feedback on my wireframes like this:

Thank you so much for your feedback. I’m concerned about being able to make all these changes before launch. Let’s chat tomorrow about what we can get done in the next release. :)

I’m trying to set the stage for a difficult communication. They were probably late with their feedback, have requested changes that aren’t in scope, and are jeopardizing the launch date. It’s going to cost them more money, some changes won’t be made, and/or the launch date will be moved. A conversation like this is best done over the phone. In the e-mail I want them to know that I’m not coming to the negotiation angry and feeling wronged and neither  should they.  We’ll work it out.

Saying it without the emoticon is okay, but I’m hoping the smiley will lighten the mood of the conversation. For the same reason I smile, I use :) to put people at ease.  Just two characters can do that better than a long-winded explanation can. How could I not be in love with that kind of efficiency? It’s casual, but formality isn’t necessarily good for connecting with people.

So, tell me what you think. I can take it. :)

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