Written words, especially in emails or texts, often can be misleading as they are void of vocal inflection, body language and other cues. How often have you written something with a hint of sarcasm only to discover the reader took it at face value? This is why many of our messages include exclamation points and emoticons. But take note of when they can detract from our professionalism.
Research shows that significantly more women than men use exclamation points. We learned to use this punctuation mark to indicate strong feelings, but nowadays exclamation points are intended to create friendly interactions or to emphasize a fact. Be aware of how often you incorporate them in your messages. For example, a recent email I received from an admin contained more than seven exclamation marks within one paragraph. I have to admit it made me question her skill set.
As for emoticons, it depends on the recipient and the subject of the email. A smiley face in an official correspondence with a customer is typically not appropriate. However, among colleagues, it has become the norm within many organizations. But be aware of your company’s culture. If no one uses emoticons, I’d follow protocol or use them sparingly.
I don’t advocate peppering your message with these markers, but research has revealed the value in emoticons. Not only do readers perceive messages with emoticons as more positive, researchers found that using emoticons can strengthen relationships in a work environment. They serve to strengthen some messages (thank yous, appraisals and promises) and they soften others (requests, corrections or complaints).
For example, I work with a client who finds a clever emoticon that summarizes her entire email. I’ve received dying flowers when a deal went south and confetti when one closed. I appreciate the energy she invests finding the perfect visual per email and look forward to seeing her name in my inbox.
The bottom line: While exclamation points and emoticons are part of our digital communications, use them wisely to create connection and strengthen relationships.