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Posted: August 15, 2017

Here's why you might want to stop using smiley faces in emails


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By Brianna Chambers, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Think you’re being nice when you add a smiley face to the end of your email? According to one study, you could be conveying something else. 

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The new study, titled the “The Dark Side of a Smiley,” examines the “effects of smiling emoticons on virtual first impressions.”

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel found that, contrary to popular belief, virtual smiley faces are not a suitable replacement for an in-person smile.

In fact, “smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” the researchers found. 

The study, which involved 549 participants from 29 countries, tested three experiments to gather findings. 

One experiment revealed that when the gender of the email sender was unknown, recipients assumed it was a woman if the sender used a smiley face. This finding did not correlate with participants’ conclusions with friendliness or competence.

Another experiment found that not only do recipients of professional emails with smiley faces generally view senders as less competent, they’re also less willing to share important information with the sender. When considering two emails that are exactly the same with the only difference being that one includes a smiley face, the one without the emoticon is more commonly effective.

“The study ... found that when the participants were asked to respond to emails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the email did not include a smiley,” said Dr. Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing.”

Although using smiley faces in professional emails could hinder communication in the workplace with new or unknown contacts and coworkers, the practice is more acceptable and less harmful when used with workplace buddies.

“People tend to assume that a smiley is a virtual smile, but the findings of this study show that in the case of the workplace, at least as far as initial ‘encounters’ are concerned, this is incorrect,” Glikson said.  “For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender.”

The concise conclusion? 

“In formal business emails, a smiley is not a smile,” Glikson said.


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