Researchers in Germany led by Professor Claus-Peter Ernst at Frankfurt University have found that adding a friendly emoji or smiley face is all you need to soften the blow.
They found that happy symbols could significantly influence how the message is interpreted but that sad or negative symbols had little effect.
“The usage of happy and ironic emoticons significantly shapes the subtext of a message, namely the relationship and self-revelation level. whereas sad emoticons do not have such an effect. (So) senders can use happy or ironic to soften their messages…”
The researchers wondered if using emoticons had the same effect as non-verbal gestures and facial expression in face-to-face meetings when delivering bad news at work.
They found that recipients of a message could largely identify the social and emotional meaning of an emoticon. “... emoticons are able to help to communicate a current mood or provide information about the mental state of the sender”.
They also found that the happy and ironic emoticons had a significant effect at the relationship level ….. but not at the factual level.
This contradicts earlier research from Ben Gurion University in Israel which found that the inclusion of such emojis didn’t change people’s perception of warmth and in fact lowered their perception of the sender’s competence.
Alison Green from Inc.com makes the point that a lot depends on your workplace culture and that if you have to use an emoticon maybe your message isn’t clear enough.
Personally I think it’s unprofessional in formal communications (as bad as people adding kisses). But then I think sacking people or delivering bad news by e-mail or text is a shabby HR practice. But we see plenty of examples of that these days don’t we.