Emojis compensate for the lack of body language in our digital communications, so don't be afraid to use them.
Humans have an amazing ability to adjust to an ever changing environment. Adapting to climate change may prove our most challenging test yet, but this post is not about our continued existence on earth. Rather, it’s about how we have brilliantly found a way to overcome one of the major disadvantages of communicating via text messaging and emails: namely our inability to see or hear with whom we are conversing.
When we talk face-to-face with another person, we subconsciously read their facial expressions and other subtle physical cues. Since about 70% of what we comprehend in direct conversations comes from our instinctual understanding of the other person’s body language, there is a lot of room for error when we are deprived of it.
While eye contact is not an option in phone calls (well until recently, at least), we still have the benefit of hearing the intonations of the person on the other end of the line. Correctly picking up the nuances of vocal inflection, something we humans do very well, is often more important than the actual words spoken (think sarcasm).
While I’m a huge fan of texting and emailing (see my previous post: Still Love Emails After All These Years), I acknowledge that the inability to rely on body language is a major drawback of written communication. This can lead to misunderstandings with unintended consequences, both in our professional and private relationships. I’m sure we all have our own personal examples of a text or email thread gone horribly wrong.
I didn't really appreciate the use of emojis at first and frankly, dismissed them as silly and immature. I still don’t condone overstuffing messages with an excess of emojis. But used correctly, they go a long way to ensure that our readers interpret our meaning in the tone that we intended.
Have you ever written what you thought was an exceptionally pleasant, upbeat email, actually hearing your inflection in your head, only to find out after you hit the send button that your recipient was offended? Sometimes the meaning of a sentence can be turned around 180 degrees, depending on the intonation of the speaker. But in written communications there is no tone. Adding that winking smiley face can make all the difference when you are telling a joke that may be misinterpreted if your reader is having a rough day and not in the mood to joke around – something you may not pick up on because you cannot see their facial expression and body language. Did I mention how important body language is to effective communications? :-)
Here’s my example from a recent text conversation with a client:
Jim: I think we should add to the subject line a few words about the sponsors.
Kippy: Do you see the second line that mentions the sponsors by name?
Here’s where disconnect happened.
Jim: Yes, I can read!
Jim thought I was being nasty and pointing out the obvious, but I wasn’t. I actually thought that perhaps on his mobile device, the second line was not displaying. It never occurred to me that he would misunderstand my innocent question. A simple smiley face could have reassured Jim that I did not think him illiterate.
So yes, I regularly use emojis in my professional and personal correspondence with friends, family, colleagues and clients. I’ve stopped worrying that my readers may judge me as juvenile and non-professional because I believe that, in the end, they serve a real purpose: to help me be understood correctly.
After writing this post, one thing still puzzles me though: What’s the plural form? emoji or emojis? A quick Google search indicates that “the jury is still out on this one.”
Do you have any funny or sad stories about misinterpreted emails or text messages? Please share.