are emoticons unprofessional? by Alison Green on November 18, 2013 A reader writes: What is your feeling on using emoticons (smiley faces, etc.) in professional emails? My first reaction is “no, they are too childish and unprofessional,” but then I find myself sometimes wanting to use them to add some levity to an email, or soften some language, or convey a “friendly” message. Since emails can be sometimes taken the wrong way, I feel like it would be sometimes easier to just add an emoticon versus spending time trying to word something perfectly so that the recipient gets my meaning. But I usually stop myself unless I know the person quite well and/or they have used them in an email to me. What are your thoughts? In most offices, they’re fine. I’ve seen them used in professional emails from all sorts of people, and it’s never made me think, “eeeewww, I used to think you were classy and professional, but in fact you appear to be an adolescent rube.” That assumes, of course, that the person isn’t using five of them, or using them in every communication, or accompanying them with a message written in pink font or comic sans, or so forth. (And the winking ones have always felt vaguely lecherous to me, but that might just be me.) And I think a lot of people use them the way you describe — to ensure that a message isn’t read with the wrong tone. As long as they’re used sparingly, they can be a quick way to convey “this is intended warmly” when the message otherwise risks being read as cold or critical. Of course, it needs to be a message where that makes sense — you can’t send a diatribe about the crap job your coworker did on a project and put a smiley face at the end, as if that will magically make the message nicer. And of course, as with anything, you want to be aware of your office culture; if you’re in a workplace where emoticons are just Not Done, you risk coming across as fluffy or unprofessional if you use them. Similarly, I wouldn’t use them in job search emails or other particularly formal contexts — not only do they feel out of place there, but you should be putting enough time and thought into the wording of those messages that you don’t need a smiley face for shorthand anyway. And if you do, that’s probably a sign that you need to write the message so that tone is unambiguous without the aid of emoticons. Anyone want to disagree? You may also like:how can I stop softening the message in tough conversations with my staff?my friend is sending me unprofessional emails at workcan I resign via text message?