Friday, November 20, 2009

The Role of the Emoticon in Business Correspondence

Consider this extra credit for the business etiquette course that you’ve enrolled in with Professor Schlesier.

When writing business correspondence, when is it appropriate to insert an emoticon?


My answer?

: <


Sources describe the emoticon as “a textual expression representing the face of a writer's mood or facial expression.”1 So I ask, what is the role of mood in business email? Does it have one? Surely we have all gotten in trouble with an email or two where “tone” was taken out of context. Upon reflection, didn’t we also realize that if we had just held a conversation instead of firing off that email, that perhaps a miscommunication may have been avoided? :-o

By now you’re thinking that I have no sense of humor and need to get a life. What do I have against the cute smiley face punctuating your email? Well, a lot. Scott E Fahlman, the inventor of the sideways smiley face describes that the emoticon was created for online bulletin boards in the 1980s to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously. ;-p

Instead of short and sweet, I believe business correspondence should be short and factual. You have your personal email to be sweet. Tweet sweet nothings in your 140 character space limit until the cows come home. Email your grandma with emoticons after every sentence, besides- she still thinks they are novel. But please, forget those keystrokes when you are at work.



  1. Oh by the way, she says "Hello! :)"

  2. Thank you for posting this, well said. I receive email forwards and replies from several members of our Client Services department who make use of emoticons in every e-mail. Not only it is highly unprofessional, creating a poor reflection for the company; but it is a highly subjective notion, a breeding ground for anybody who happens not to be in a "smiley" mood at 9:00 in the morning on a weekday.

  3. Thanks for your posting Anonymous. My point exactly! I try to lead by example, but have also used "teaching moments" with some of my more junior associates to point them in a more professional direction.

    Glad to have you reading!