One of the newest additions in the evolution of communication is the use of emojis or emoticons. You’ve surely seen, if not used, the hearts, smiley faces and other small pictures in some of your emails, text or social media programs. Even as an etiquette consultant, I enjoy using them in my text messages every now and then.
While emojis were once considered to be the drama points of a teenager’s angst, they have made their way into the workplace. And believe it or not, they are now considered acceptable. Emojis, when used correctly, can add meaning to your message and give it an extra flair like nothing else. On the other hand, if used incorrectly, they can be seen as highly unprofessional and inappropriate.
To help define best practices for emoji use, here are five etiquette rules to remember. This way, you can make full use of this new technology while still maintaining your professionalism.
1. Keep the situation in mind.
Before flooding your message with emojis, carefully consider the situation, the person who will receive it and the tone of your business communications. If you are writing to someone on a serious matter, emojis will probably not be appropriate; they can, however, soften a harsh message. For example, if you have to communicate some disappointing news to a colleague, you might use the sad-face emoji to let the person know that you are disappointed too. Restrict yourself from using them if you don’t know the person well or you aren’t sure who will receive your message. If, on the other hand, you are delivering a message on the lighter side and are sure the receiver uses emojis, feel free to use them – once in a while.
2. Practice discretion.
Regardless of the situation, emojis should never be used to totally replace actual words. They are only meant to add a bit of emotion to your message. It would be inappropriate, especially in the workplace, to flood your email (or any other form of messaging) with them as this might make you look childish and immature.
3. Use only emojis you understand.
When in doubt, leave them out. Never use emojis for which you don’t fully understand the meaning. The office is not the place to experiment as you could inadvertently send the wrong message. The simplest and safest emoji to use is a version of the smiley face. However, it’s best to avoid emojis that could be interpreted as flirtation, anger or romance. Just for fun, research emoji meanings at Emojipedia.org.
4. Don’t use emojis with a potential client.
It’s not wise to use emojis if you are trying to establish a new relationship with a client or colleague. Use actual words instead. Again, keep it professional. Instead, focus on expressing yourself through well-thought-out emails and text messages that will build a person’s confidence in you.
5. Consider emojis like slang.
Co-workers build a language of their own that includes industry jargon and casual slang, and using emojis is like using slang words. Emojis work best in casual conversations. However, when a message is important, certain emojis may backfire and give the impression that you aren’t taking the situation seriously. Remember, what might cause a chuckle amongst co-workers may have the opposite effect with clients.
It is important to know how to communicate without emojis, so keep your writing and communications skills sharp. Don’t rely on an icon to describe how you’re feeling. Emojis can have their place in messaging, but consider them as merely an enhancement, not a replacement. To be safe, use them sparingly, wisely and appropriately.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by Entrepreneur.com.ph