As organisations become more social media aware so emoticon use has developed. From indicating the emotional state of the sender, an emoticon now also helps a receiver to decode emotional intent.
Emoticons seem to help email messages to be interpreted. They provide some emotional contextualization. Business emoticon use usually conveys a positive attitude. Often, this occurs after a signature 2, or can indicate a joke or piece of irony: “I am 36. I have never had a car. However, I have driven others’ cars since I was 18, without making a scratch, but that doesn’t count, I guess.”
However, the most sophisticated use of emoticons is in relation to ‘hedging’. A hedge often follows an expression of thanks, or a greeting. Two uses have been identified. The first way to use an emoticon strengthens a positive intention. Conversely, the second way to hedge is to soften a message that may otherwise be perceived as having a negative emotional intent, for example, corrections or complaints: “Hi Maria, did you mean stationery or stationary?. … John” .
Messages that may appear as demanding, intrusive or even rude, are now usually accompanied by an emoticon. They enhance meaning so that a message is not over imposing, impolite or authoritative. “Shouldn’t we take into account customer needs for information? Maria’s reply: “No, say I”
The next time you want to moderate expectations within your message consider using an emoticon. Please share your experience with us.
1 Based on research by Skovholt, Gronning, and Kankaanranta (2014) The Communicative Functions of Emoticons in Workplace Emails: :-), Journal of Computer – Mediated Communication
2 Google ‘emoticon’ for information about specific
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