Don’t do this in emails. It makes you seem less competent

Smiling is usually a good idea. People like you more when you smile than when you don’t, provided the smile is genuine. And smiling makes you seem warmer and more competent.

So, does that mean that adding a smiley face emoji to your emails has the same effect?

No. No, it doesn’t. In fact, according to a new paper by researchers at Ben Gurion University of Haifa and Amsterdam University, adding a smiley emoji, or similar emojis, to your work-related emails can have the opposite effect, and make you seem less competent. The research was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” said Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at BGU’s Department of Management. “In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.”

Researchers conducted a series of experiments with 549 participants from 29 countries.

In one experiment, participants were asked to read work-related emails from unknown senders, and evaluate both the competence and warmth of that person. The messages were similar, with some containing smileys and others not.

The results demonstrated that in contrast to face-to-face smiles, email smileys had no effect on perception of warmth, and had a negative effect on perception of competence.

The study also found that when the participants were asked to respond to emails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and included more pertinent information when the request email did not include a smiley.

“We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing,” said Glikson.

In other words, you get more useful information out of people when you don’t include a smiley in your request for information.

So, “Hi Peter. Can you please send me the information we will need to include in the quarterly report?” will elicit a more comprehensive response than “Hi Peter. Can you please send me the information we will need to include in the quarterly report? :)”

In another experiment, the use of a smiley was compared to a smiling or neutral photograph of a sender. Researchers found that in a photograph, a smiling sender was perceived as more competent and friendly than a neutral one. But when email included a smiley, the sender was perceived as less competent. Again, the smiley did not influence the evaluation of the sender’s warmth.

“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 says.

Keeping all emojis out of emails and other forms of messaging in your professional life is probably a good idea.

And remember, particularly when you’re reaching out to someone for the first time, we always caution that it’s best to err on the side of formality. More things to avoid include typos and textspeak – spell “you” instead of shortening it to “u.” And when it comes to email openings, keep it professional and stay away from the following:

“Hey Peter,”

Start professional emails with “Dear,” “Hello,” or at the very least “Hi,” until you know for sure that “Hey” is acceptable. Younger people will use it all the time, but anyone over 35 might think you’re too familiar.

“Hey Peter!!!”

The odd exclamation point is fine, but they should be used sparingly, like spice. Otherwise you look like a teenager.




At this point things are just getting out of control.

“HEY PETER!!! 🙂 This sort of greeting should only be followed with “Congratulations on the new baby!!!” Or the news that you’re quitting your job because you just won $20,000,000.

In which case, CONGRATULATIONS!!!! 🙂

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