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Science Just Gave Us Another Reason Not to Use Emoji at Work

A new study finds that including smiley faces in messages could unfavorably tip the scales if you're trying to make a good first impression.


So much of our communication at work is text-based, but sometimes nuance can get lost. It's tempting to drop in an emoji to make sure that a response doesn’t seem too harsh, but there's a reason to hold off on that smiley face.

A new study from Ben Gurion University and Amsterdam University found that using smiley emojis in your email correspondence could give off a bad impression. The researchers polled 549 people from 29 countries and had them read work emails from a stranger. They were then asked to rate the competence level and overall warmth of the sender of the email. A photo of the person who sent the email was also included.

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When an image of a smiling person was included, the participants perceived the sender of the email to be more competent and friendly. But when the correspondence included smiley emoji, the person was viewed as less competent, especially when the message related to formal work matters

The researchers found that when the study participants responded to the emails they were given on formal work matters, if the message they were sent included a smiley emoji, their answers had less content and were less detailed.

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Additionally, the participants were more likely to assume that the emails that had the emoji were written by women, although that perception on the whole didn’t influence how they perceived the sender’s competence or friendliness.

So if you are trying to make a good first impression, maybe leave the emoji out of your correspondence, at least while you’re building rapport.

“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,” the researchers wrote. "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."

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