How many times do you find yourself in the midst of a work email, and searching for your favorite smiley emoji or simply typing “:)” to get your point across?
Well, new research tells us that as much as your mind says do — just DON’T.
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel conducted a study seeking to determine whether including smileys in work emails actually has an effect on the message. Their findings revealed that “:)” really does make an impression, —albeit not the friendly feeling an email writer may intend.
Instead, participants reported that reading a happy face in the text of a work email made them think that the sender was less competent than if the same message did not contain the emoticon. Even though smiles communicate competence and warmth in person, a smiley could make the reader less likely to share as much information in their reply.
In a press release, Ella Glikson, one of the study’s authors and a postdoctoral fellow at the BGU Department of Management, said: “Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys only marginally increased perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence.” She continues, “In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.”
For the study, researchers conducted three experiments with 549 people from 29 countries.
In one experiment, people were asked to read an anonymous work email and then evaluated that person based on their competence. The results revealed that messages without smiley faces led people to believe the sender was more competent than the same emails with added smileys.
Furthermore, researchers reported that when people were asked to respond to the emails, they included more detailed information in their replies when responding to an email without smileys. “Information sharing was significantly lower in the smiley condition than in the control condition,” the study authors write, suggesting that smiley usage in emails could hinder communication in the workplace.
Finally, the study also determined that the use of a smiley also had an effect on the perception of gender. When the sender’s identity was unknown, the participants were more likely to think emails with smiley faces were sent by a woman, though that assumption didn’t affect that person’s perceived levels of warmth and competence.
For all you smiley loving folks out there, Glikson advises people not to let your love of “:)” ruin your only chance at a first impression. “In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender,” she said.
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