are emoticons unprofessional?

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?

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. Eric*

    Why does comic sans even exist? I work for somebody who sends most e-mails in a normal font, except for the ones that are “Official E-mails” sent formally on behalf of the company/CEO. Those go in comic sans.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        +1 I thoroughly enjoyed that! :D

        Don’t get me wrong, I value the advice given on AAM, but some posts really make me see the neurosis in people. I don’t understand how you can have the energy to care if someone sends a smiley face, writes a note in comic sans, or prostitutes over lunch (ok maybe not that last one :P).

    1. Vicki*

      I LIKE Comic Sans. It’s a cheerful informal font. I use it for my personal web site and blog.

      But I agree that it doesn’t belong in email “sent formally on behalf of the company/CEO”. Then again (imo), neither does Helvetica. :-)

      ^^^ see what I did there?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm. Given the widespread and STRONG believe that Comic Sans conveys things that your comments here prove you are not (amateurish, non-Internet-savvy, childish), do you not worry about the way a lot of people will perceive that? (I don’t know how to word that less snottily, but it’s not intended to be snotty.)

        1. Victoria Nonprofit*

          For a personal blog, maybe it’s ok to be perceived as childish/amateurish/etc.?

          I have such dirty lenses on this: Much as I rage (silently, or to my husband or whatever) against grammar snobbery, I also rage against font snobbery. Seriously? Why do people care so much? (Please know that is a rhetorical question; I don’t mean to ignite the anti-Comic Sans crowd – they are weirdly [to me] passionate.)

          1. Tax Nerd*

            Comic Sans looks most like the font that would be achieved by using a Crayola Marker to hand-write a Found Cat poster.

            Sometimes that’s a good thing – you want a font that’s casual and breezy, and Comic Sans conveys that.

            It’s weird in a business context for the same reasons. It seems too casual. I would never use it on my resume, or in a work email. But I don’t mind it as an IM font, either.

            1. Chinook*

              I agree that Comic Sans is great for IM but not for proper letters. Ditto for emoticons. I see them as the equivalent of starting an in-person conversation with a casual chat. Since some of the people I interact with have never heard my voice, these types of things help me signify a casual conversation or even a joke.

              1. Jessa*

                Exactly I use comic sans once in a blue moon for informal things, but the current internet culture as Alison said above, makes it clear, like all caps, excessive use of ! and other things of that type, it’s just not on to do it.

                Actually right now I only use CS for one thing. I have a sticky note programme that allows me to put custom formatted notes on my screen to myself and I use it for the notes to do something for someone who actually writes comics for a living.

          2. A cita*

            As a former designer, typography and font (not the same thing) are very important. It’s as much about snobbery as having something well designed versus not, in my opinion. Which I know doesn’t really address the rage against (and for) Comic Sans.

          3. FD*

            Think of it this way. Suppose a person showed up for an interview in a perfectly well-tailored chartreuse suit. They interview very well and they technically wore professional clothes. But I think a lot of hiring managers would have trouble perceiving them the same way that they would someone who wore a more neutral suit, even though there’s no reason chartreuse is inherently more professional than black, brown, or grey. Because Comic Sans is strongly associated with people who either aren’t particularly computer literate or aren’t mature, using it as your website font is liable to give the same impression about you, however unfairly.

            One could argue “It’s my personal blog, who cares?” But any time you’re putting something out to the public where a potential employer could google it, it’s wise to be careful of the image you present.

            1. Clever Name*

              I’d argue that using comic sans in a business setting is equivalent to showing up to an interview in a clown suit….

              1. Cat*

                Well, the fact that we don’t wear clown suits to interviews is also a matter of social convention rather than something dictated by the objective reality of the situation. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the fact that we don’t. But you could imagine a universe in which clown suits had developed as the predominant form of business dress. That doesn’t mean you should start wearing them to interviews in this one, though.

        2. Queen Victoria*

          I agree with your take on this. Even if someone personally doesn’t mind Comic Sans, the fact that so many people associate it with frivolity is a strong reason to avoid it.

          I consider Comic Sans a font for kids (also not intended to sound snobby, just my genuine view). A fourth grade book report in Comic Sans is a-okay but coming from an adult, it strikes me as odd.

        3. Boo*

          “(I don’t know how to word that less snottily, but it’s not intended to be snotty.)”

          That would have been the perfect time to bust out a smiley.

          1. Jessa*

            Exactly. If you use them sparingly, that would be precisely the place. The issue with emoticons is that some people just do not get you’re not supposed to use three every sentence. If you need more than one in an email (maybe 2 if it’s incredibly long) you might need to rephrase yourself.

        4. Teacher*

          Comic Sans is a font widely used in schools, within presentations during lessons. It’s a common font which has been proven to support students with dyslexia / literacy difficulties. The letters / font is readable for SEN students and stands out for throes students who have a difficulty reading. The letter ‘a’ is written in the way we would use it when providing written work.

          Nothing wrong with the font style!

      2. NBB*

        Sorry, but Comic Sans has some really negative connotations about the people who usually use it. I know you think it’s cheerful and informal, but many people think it’s ugly and hate it. Apologies again, as I am sure you are a lovely person, but I would not read a blog written in Comic Sans, as I would jump to some negative conclusions about the person writing it. That they are totally out of touch, un-tech savvy, and the type that sends those horrible chain emails.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s a management blog that has good content when I read it in my RSS reader, but I’ll never send links to its articles to other people, because they use Comic Sans, and I feel like it destroys all their credibility (and mine, if I send a link to it). I think this kind of feeling is widespread enough that it would be a serious obstacle for any blog intended for more than friends/family (which Vicki’s may not be).

          1. Kathryn T.*

            My child’s first grade teacher sends home progress reports in Comic Sans. This is, literally, juvenile content, we’re talking about the successes and travails of a 7-year-old. Even under those circumstances, it makes me wince; that’s how bad Comic Sans’ reputation is.

            1. Elizabeth*

              I’m a teacher and this also makes me wince! Mostly because I disagree that progress reports are juvenile content – they’re about a juvenile, but they are still adult communication.

              This kind of thing makes it harder for teachers who want to be taken seriously as a real profession :-(

              (Is that a suitable use of an emoticon?)

          2. FD*

            The manger at my current job received a resume in Comic Sans, on some of that paper that was made to look sort of like parchment (not with ragged edges, just the sort of patterned look you see sometimes in paper made for kids’ projects).

          3. JMegan*

            The Ministry of the Attorney General in Ontario uses Comic Sans for their “How to Get a Divorce” handbook. It’s…odd.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        You’re not putting your posts in Comic Sans, right? It’s a little hard to read sometimes. (Says the person with defective eyeballs!) If your blog is just for family and friends and they’re cool with it, you’re probably fine. But if you intend it for a larger audience, I’d pick a standard font.

      4. CN*

        My impression is that, in the past, Comic Sans fit a niche for those types of fonts back when the design world didn’t look like it does today and there wasn’t a plethora of fonts to choose from. Back then, if you were looking for “comic-book-like” or “casual/cheerful,” that might’ve been a valid go-to. And that people started overusing it because of that time period, even when technology surpassed that need.

        I guess what I’m saying is that there isn’t necessarily an *objective* reason that Comic Sans is “bad design.” It’s partially cultural pile-on and partially just outdated. Still need to be aware of those connotations though, as they have very real consequences, especially in the professional world.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Casual and cheerful, exactly. In addition to not being the right font when you want to look mature and professional, might I suggest to people that it’s not the right font for when you want to strike a mournful tone? When my dog passed away last year, I was a bit boggled by all the pet loss sites that were written in Comic Sans. I’ve also seen “tragic glurge” Facebook memes (of the “repost this if someone you love has cancer” variety) written in Comic Sans. o.O

    2. ChristineSW*

      I sit on a county department-mandated advisory council, and the administrative assistant for that department sends emails with comic sans. Why?!? Sure you may want to convey a casual feel to your correspondence, but the image I had in my head before meeting her in person was WAY off because of it.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eric, that gives you an opening to address it: “Hey Jane, I’ve come across a few articles like this one (link to one; there are many) that talk about how Comic Sans is seen as unprofessional. I wanted to share it with you in case it’s a problem to be sending out the CEO’s messages in that font.”

      1. Ashlee*

        Or writing a script for a comic book. Those two reasons, I think are mainly why Comic Sans exists. It’s the other uses people have found that get annoying.

        1. Anonymous*

          Why? Apart from its misuse and the popular hate about Comic Sans, what are the problems with it? I’m talking in terms of design – things like spacing, the form of the characters, etc.

          It looks well-designed to me for its purpose, but was unfortunately overused in the wrong way so now gives a poor impression.

          1. Esra*

            Comic/graphic novel typefaces are often presented all caps, and slightly condensed. All caps Comic Sans is not pretty. At this point, the typeface has been so poorly saturated that even in a context that could be considered appropriate, it will still stand out in a bad way.

            When there are so many other free alternatives out there, why stick with a typeface that has so many negative associations?

              1. Esra*

                Sure. Blambot is a big one, with typefaces dedicated to comics and lettering. They have both paid and free fonts. There are an absurd amount of options here, broken down by genre, usage, etc. Virtually all of which are superior to Comic Sans.

                If you want only free, check out dafont, under Themes > Fancy, there is a section that’s nothing but comic typefaces. Anime Ace, ACME Secret Agent, the Komika family, they’re all better than Comic Sans.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Thanks. I’d seen Dafont before, but mainly for typefaces for extended text, and got a feeling of low quality. Plus some atrocious typefaces like Harabara (which is how I came across that site). Perhaps the quality there is higher for other type of typefaces than for extended text.

                2. Esra*

                  Dafont really is everything under the sun. But if you browse through, you’ll start to see typefaces that pop up in different ads, movie posters, logos etc. It’s a very popular resource, you just gotta look.

                3. Anonymous*

                  Dafont seems to be display typefaces (as the use cases you mention) – short pieces of information. Not quality for extended text. Perhaps not even whole paragraphs.

                4. Anonymous*

                  Sorry, not clear. I meant that the typefaces Dafont has that might be used for extended text seem badly designed in general. I’m not a good judge of display typefaces – maybe those are OK.

    4. Dianne*

      The manager of our membership dept. used to do comic sans for casual correspondence and papyrus for more formal emails. Thankfully she now uses Constant Contact, which does not allow papyrus.

      1. Kate*

        oh my goodness, that’s kind of adorable. i’m picturing a sweet older lady who isn’t totally tech savvy …

        1. Clare*

          It doesn’t work…I’ve failed :( As I can’t find the proper link at the moment, all I can suggest is to google “toothpaste for dinner papyrus” & enjoy!

    5. Bee*

      I read somewhere that Comic Sans is actually one of the easiest fonts to read for someone with dyslexia. Something about the spacing and the shape of the letters makes it harder to mix letters up with each other. I don’t know if that’s a real thing or if it’s just anecdotal, but it’s something to think about, anyway.

  2. Allison*

    I use smiley faces in e-mails or Google instant messages with co-workers I’m somewhat close with. But I will say that a smiley face can make a message seem somewhat passive aggressive, just as sometimes an obviously fake smile doesn’t necessarily soften the blow of bad news or criticism. Context is everything.

  3. Anonymous*

    I use them with coworkers I am close with or my vendors (and usually only if they do it first). I don’t know if if I’d ever email the owner of my company and include an emoticon! ;)

  4. Cat*

    For a long time, my boss had, I guess, seen emoticons and internalized that they were used to make things friendlier but failed to actually understand what they represented in the more literal sense. So he always sent friendly, informal messages with this: “-:)” I liked to imagine that a unicorn was wishing me a nice day. (I think eventually he cottoned on. I haven’t seen it for a while.)

    1. PuppyKat*

      Laughing out loud in my office here! I think I’ll start using the friendly unicorn emoticon in my own emails. -:)

    2. Lori*

      I work in PR, and if you’ve ever seen a press release, you may have noticed that they usually include three ### signs at the bottom to signify the end of the release. I don’t know why or how that got started, but it’s industry standard. I remember training a younger employee, and giving her her first press release to draft. She turned it in with three random signs at the bottom: @&$ or something. She knew she was supposed to put something but didn’t know the pound sign was standard and just added whatever she liked. Which I thought was kind of annoying that she didn’t ask, but that still makes me laugh.

  5. Kevin*

    I think they’re perfectly fine with some rules. You should know the person first. If they’re too a client or customer it’s probably best to leave them out. If they’re going to someone really high up probably skip them.

    I used to get them whenever something needed a correction but wasn’t a big deal. They added a :) in order to signal they didn’t mind.

  6. Jubilance*

    I only use emoticons on company IM or emails with coworkers that I have a friendly relationship with. They aren’t a part of my standard when sending work emails.

  7. Malissa*

    One or two per email between people that know each other is fine. I never use them in a first email to anybody.
    Also don’t use them when you are trying to correct someone’s behavior. i.e. Hey Bob please file this report in the standard way and not in the way that makes tons more sense since the standard way assures that I have absolute control over everything even if it’s wrong. :)
    Also if you are dealing with a person who needs crystal clear instructions, don’t use an emoticon, that may be all they see and ignore the rest of the message.
    Having to copy and paste in emoticons that you’ve downloaded from smiley central–also not okay.

  8. Ann O'Nemity*

    My boss’s boss frequently uses them in brief emails that she composes on her phone, such as:

    *Pls bring xtra copies of report to mtg tmrw morn. Ty :)

    *xlt presentation :)

    I’ve gotten used to it, and even learned some new textspeak.

    1. Anonymous*

      Is she older? I ask because people seem to think text speak is a thing lazy millennials do, but I usually see people over 50 doing it. Like my mother who always writes you as u and it drives me crazy…

      1. VintageLydia*

        I know too many people of too many ages to consider txt spk a “young people problem.” And considering SMS has a 160 character limit and even when that isn’t the case typing on the phone is a PITA I totally understand the use of txt spk. It’s mildly annoying when I see it in other contexts but it’s not a pet peeve or anything.

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          My mother is retired and an expert at text speak. She spent two years in a texting heavy society & never looked back.

      2. Mints*

        Oh I get those emails, too (from my boss in his 40s). (I’m a millennial) It really annoys me too, but I freely admit I might be biased because other things annoy me. It just looks lazy. I feel that if you spend enough time emailing beyond “hit traffic will be 20m late” or “HELP SERVER IS ON FIRE” you should be comfortable enough on your phone / tablet / laptop to send emails with complete words

        About the actual question: I think emoticons are okay in the context of friendly and casual emails

        1. Nancie*

          I know for myself, sometimes I can text a lengthy message in proper English — and sometimes the autocorrect fairy comes to visit and it’s time to cut my losses and resort to text speak.

      3. Anonymous*

        Yes, most millenials I know use almost absurdly proper spelling and grammar in texting (I even spell out the word “okay”!) I think part of it is that iPhones and other messaging platforms have erased character limits, but it’s still strange to me that people assume we all txt lyke dis 2 tlk 2 u. Most of us haven’t typed like that since we were 12!

        1. Windchime*

          I have a couple of friends who text like this and it seems like it’s more work to do “txt spk” than it is to text in regular words. I’ve never been a big fan of the “u = you” usage.

          At Oldjob, I worked on a programing project with a guy that was a Physician’s Assistant. So he was a pretty educated person. He would email us these indecipherable messages that were so hard to read and so ridiculous that we would save them up and to re-read on days when we needed a laugh.

          1. Jen in RO*

            At my old job there was a lady, highly articulate (she was a very good technical writer) who used text spk on IM. She worked in a different country, so sometimes a bunch of us would gather around a monitor to figure out what she was trying to say :P

        2. Del*

          Agreed! And it drives me crazy when advertisers try to use textspeak to reach out to millennials and younger. It’s just such an easy sign that the campaign came from someone who buys into the stereotypes.

      4. Observer*

        One of the reasons that “older” people are surprisingly heavy users of “txt speak” is because they came of age when the utmost brevity was really important. If you were typing on-line at 300bps, you really wanted to transmit the absolute minimum. Even at a “blazingly fast” 2400, you really didn’t want to spend more time typing than you had to. Furthermore, people were paying by the minute, so if you fully spelled everything out, you cold add a couple of minutes – and dollars – to your session (and the sessions of others.)

        I remember real argument over how rude back-quotes were, although most people agreed that MINIMAL back-quotes were acceptable. Even responding with a message that said nothing more than “thank you” was frowned upon by many.

        1. fposte*

          See, I remember the second part, but I didn’t see any of the textspeak stuff on early Usenet. Is there a country difference, perhaps, or was it maybe more of a specific BBS thing?

        2. Mints*

          I remember that version of internet too, but I was a baby and definitely not sending work emails. But I learned to type really quickly, and brevity might be accurate, but not text speak. Text speak seems really specific to pre-smart phone texting (can u give me a ride 2 mall plz)

          1. cecilhungry*

            I hand wrote notes in what’s now known as text speak when I was in 6th grade. It was before (but not much before) widespread texting, but after the internet was pretty big (the age of A/S/L, if you will). You know the stuff: “R U going 2 ask NE1 2 the dance? Jason is such a QT I wish he wud of asked me Nstead of KT. NEwayz, G2G got 2 do 2morrow’s hmwrk. U R gr8! C U N class! TTYL LYLAS” and then folded into some sort of complex origami. I grew out of it, thank god.

        3. Jessa*

          Heck I come to it from even older than that. When you’re sending by telegram, teletype or telex tape you want to conserve characters as depending on the setup you were either charged by character or by time to send. Now that no longer matters, while you can still send one, there’s no real need to send a telegram anymore and teletype (beyond ticker tape which has pretty much gone digital) is fairly defunct or extremely cheap you only pay for the transmission line and data transmission is extremely inexpensive now. But lots of people came into computing when you had OMG slow speeds and internet access was paid by the minute unless you worked somewhere.

    2. Chinook*

      I see your boss using the emoticon to make something given as an order (bring copies) less “mean” and more friendly in the same way I would ask someone to do something even though they really don’t have the option to say no.

  9. Coelura*

    I limit emoticons to Instant Messages. Almost never in work related emails, just because those are often retained for long periods & sometimes do not go through the system properly. If I need to soften the message, I pick up the telephone and communicate verbally instead of via written form.

    1. tcookson*

      That’s what I do, too. First I try to phrase the message for the most clarity possible, and then if I still have trouble coming up with a non-problematic way to say it, I pick up the phone.

      For example: My former direct boss, who doesn’t work well with her new assistant, sent me an email to the effect of, “Was there any particular reason you gave my assistant such-and-such document instead of handing it directly to me?”

      I sat at my computer and started several responses to that before I realized that I was in a minefield and that there was nothing I could type and guarantee how it would be received. So I picked up the phone and had the conversation that way, and it turned out fine.

  10. Yup*

    I do sometimes use emoticons in casual emails to a small handful of coworkers, in a “have a great weekend :)” kind of way. They haven’t shrieked in horror or anything, so I don’t think emoticons are universally off limits at work.

    But I think, in general, it’s important to get the actual words right first instead of relying on emoticons. (Especially if it’s a conversation that’s sensitive or could be misunderstood.) When I find myself tempted to stick a smiley in to let someone know that I mean something in a nice way, it’s usually worth it for me to go back and figure out the words from which I’m trying to remove the sting. Sometimes the sting needs to stay there, sometimes I need to use different words.

    1. Jessa*

      Yes, thank you. If you’re writing something and really need to explain it with an emoticon, the first choice should be to rephrase. Although sometimes as Alison pointed up above it can be hard to do, and that’s the place for parenthetical thoughts or an emoticon.

  11. ChristineSW*

    I pretty much echo Alison’s response. I use them very sparingly, and only with those whom I’m particularly friendly with, and the email isn’t of an especially critical/serious nature.

  12. HR Competent*

    I never use, nor like to see emoticons in professional emails. Also, LOL should be banned as well.

    As Yup noted, good to have the text clearing conveying the message you want to send.

    1. NBB*

      Totally agree! The use of LOL makes me cringe in professional emails (and personal, but I’ll give those a pass).

        1. Victoria Nonprofit*

          A serious question: How do you indicate that you are receiving an email/text/etc. with humor? I also don’t tend to use lol – not sure why – and instead will write “Ha!” or something like that… something that reflects the actual sound I make, e.g. “Ha! That’s a crazy story.” I’ve been actually trying to switch to lol because I realized that my single-syllable “ha!” might sound snarky or sarcastic (and I’m pretty much the least sarcastic person you’ll ever meet).

          1. fposte*

            I think you’re overthinking your Ha there and that will not be read as scornful unless your career is being a madcap detective.

          2. Laufey*

            It’s all about the varying degress of laughter. It is a light snicker (tehehehe), or more of an evil scientist plot to take of the world laugh (Bwahahahaha!)?

          3. Jen in RO*

            To me, ‘ha’ would sound sarcastic. I use ‘lol’ a lot… but I don’t remember using it at work. If I want to show I’m laughing, I’ll do a laughing smiley, i.e. :))))) (extra parentheses for more laughter). Now I wonder, is this common? I think it’s super popular here because :)) was the laughing, animated smiley on Yahoo Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger was *the* biggest thing a couple of years ago.

          4. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I use “ha!” in that case. I can’t think of a context where I’d use it where the person could misread it as sarcastic or snarky. It’s usually something like this:

            Other person: (funny story about their toddler)
            Me: Ha! She’s hilarious.

            I mean, there doesn’t seem to be room to misinterpret that, or am I wrong?

            1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              Ha! sounds kind of mean to me, maybe because it can also be used as an expression of derision (He wants to date her? Ha!) I prefer Hee! It’s obviously an expression of humor-induced glee.

              1. Anon with a name*

                “Haha” works too. It’s clearly laughter, where (as you say) simply “Ha” can sound derisive. But I think if people know you well enough, they’re going to know the spirit in which you intended your “Ha”, so I doubt AAM has any problems there :)

                1. fposte*

                  I remembered it was Prussian and could not for the life of me recall Pickelhaube. HR C, you complete me.

    2. Malissa*

      Lol–What used to mean funny but now means I really don’t have anything to say but the last thing you said was mildly amusing. ;)

      1. anonintheUK*

        I have a work contact who is well into her fifties who puts LOL in every message.
        Whenever we have a back and forth exchange, I have a mental image of her gradually descending into hysteria. Tax law will do that to you.

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        Not only does it indeed mean “you just wrote something that I think was supposed to be faintly entertaining,” but it’s also devolved into a substitute for punctuation. I get downright stabby when someone writes “haha lol” where there should be a period.

  13. Sunflower*

    I use them with vendors I speak to at least once a week. Usually when I’m making a small request or change that isn’t a big deal. Or if they made a minor mistake and I don’t want them to fret over it.

    Email is so difficult. It’s hard to convey tone. When I send an email about something that isn’t a big deal or urgent, I find myself wanting to call the person because I don’t want them to get the wrong impression. But since the issue isn’t a big deal, it really doesn’t necessitate a phone call. Catch 22.

    Laughing about the winky-face. My one co-worker’s clients are older men in their 50’s/60’s and he’s always getting texts from them with winky faces and other emoticons that have no relevance to the subject. It just confuses him and frankly freaks him out a little!

    As always, know your audience. And if you have to think about it for longer than 5 seconds, probably don’t do it. No one is going to dock you points for not using them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But people dislike it for compelling reasons. Isn’t that a little like saying “the more people complain about white text on a yellow background, the more I want to use it”?

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        No. The objections to Comic Sans are all context based (it is a font designed for cartoons, therefore it is childish, etc.). Over time it’s feasible that trends will shift and culturally Comic Sans will feel appropriate.

        White text on a yellow background is simply difficult to read (for many people). Context will never change that. Even if trends shift and culturally we wind up thinking white-on-yellow looks professional/cool/etc. lots of people will still have a hard time reading it.

        … now, all that being said, it’s obviously childish to want to do something because others don’t want you to do it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I don’t like gray on white either.

          When I look at Comic Sans, I think comic book. It LOOKS like comic book writing. I can ignore it in IM, but emails need to be in a font I can read. In a size I can see!

          1. Victoria Nonprofit*

            That’s a good point – people who understand typography better than I do probably have some explanations about how easy or difficult various fonts are to read (for example, I’ve heard that sans serif fonts are easier to read on a screen and serif fonts are easier to read in print). That could be a non-context-based explanation for some of the Comic Sans hate. Buuuut it wouldn’t explain why Comic Sans is singled out. That’s still just cultural preference.

            1. Ann O'Nemity*

              Two of the things I dislike about Comic Sans are the inconsistent line thickness and poor letterfit/kerning. These are functional problems that make the font displeasing or awkward to read. (And the more you know about graphic design, the more it assaults your eyes.)

              I think the issue with Comic Sans is that it is a crappy font that has been misused so frequently that it’s now the butt of every font joke.

      2. Windchime*

        That’s the thing; I don’t think the reasons that people dislike Comic Sans are really all that compelling. It’s not a font I reach for (I’m more of a Verdana girl, myself), but I really don’t understand the strong hatred of Comic Sans. Is it a serious font? No, but I wouldn’t expect something named “Comic” to be serious in the first place.

    2. fposte*

      Yeah, I kind of get that. It seems like there are things we’re all supposed to hate–Nickelback, Twilight, Comic Sans–more for their cultural positioning than for any logic. (Do these people really hate the closing credits on Barney Miller? Surely not.)

      However, since Comic Sans would affect my actual communication in the ways Alison mentions above, I wouldn’t use it there even to rebel.

      1. Leslie Yep*

        Yes, totally agree. I personally do think Comic Sans looks unprofessional, but I don’t really understand the breathless pile ons it seems to inspire any time someone mentions it.

      2. Chinook*

        I like Nickleback (but I’m Alberta and grew up hearing garage bands that sound like them) and I find Comic Sans easier to read, so I’m in the minority. But Twilight seems to teach teen girls that stalking is romantic, which I don’t agree with.

    3. John*

      Use normal fonts. I just got an email pitch from someone supposedly skilled at working with execs. It was written in a non-conventional “fun” font and her sign-off was the deal killer. “Best always, [name]” in a signaturey type of font.

      Oh, and she used a patterned background.

      I took her to be all of 11 and ditched the pitch.

      1. Joey*

        I’m a little baffled at all of the comic sans hating. This is exactly what I hate- colored signaturey type signatures coupled with any stationary. It makes me picture you sitting in your scentsy scented office on a rocking chair knitting away with a fake flower arrangement on your desk.

        1. Windchime*

          The email “stationary” drives me crazy. People at Oldjob used to do that and it was so distracting. Joey’s description is perfect. It makes about as much sense as writing in yellow font on a
          lavender background.

  14. Grumpy*

    Huh, I asked about this in a recent open thread. My boss uses at least one smiley face in every. single. email. No matter matter how mundane the message. I find it irritating – every once in a while is fine – but I am not 12. I am a professional, and I don’t need a smiley face in every single message sent to me. His emails also often provide super obvious info I didn’t need or ask for, or assume I am ignorant of some super basic life stuff. Not a real example, but along the lines of :

    “Just wanted to let you know that today is Monday, which is the first day of the work week, and it might rain :)”

    Most people said I was being too sensitive.

    1. fposte*

      I think the response was because it sounds like you find it a personal affront when it’s clearly just a habit of his that has nothing to do with you specifically. Think of it as his equivalent of “Good morning” and “Have a nice day.”

      1. Grumpy*

        Yeah, you are right. I think I am taking it personally because I want my boss to take me seriously (I’m a serious professional gosh darn it…kidding, kind of…) and I get all sorts of signals that he does not. And I am totally projecting too, because I personally wouldn’t smiley face every email except to maybe a child, so I feel he sees me like a child.

        1. Merry*

          When I use a smiley in an email, it doesn’t mean I’m not taking the recipient seriously; it means I’m not taking MYSELF seriously.

          …. :)

  15. Elizabeth*

    I agree that they’re fine if used sparingly, and if the writer sticks to the basics. I loved oddball emoticons when I was 16 – Abraham Lincoln, pig with a hat, angry guy with a mohawk – but they seem unprofessional because they’re often unclear (which was the fun part as a teenager, since it felt like a secret code). Also, I’m no longer sure what emotion “pig with a hat” conveys.

    Actually, I would probably steer clear even of a frowny face :-( in professional emails, since it could come off as being flippant, as if you’re not taking the sad/bad thing very seriously.

    1. TL*

      “pig with a hat” clearly conveys an absurd sense of gravitas.

      I will occasionally pop a smiley face in, generally when I’m being super brief and don’t want people to take it the wrong way. But I normally don’t use them in professional correspondence – for personal, I use them all the time and I just got a set of very cute Minion ones that I’m so excited about!

      1. HR Competent*

        “pig with a hat” clearly conveys an absurd sense of gravitas”

        That was a laugh out loud moment.

    2. Joey*

      You’re making this 40 year old feel really old. When I was 16 cellphones had a monochromatic one line screen. That is if your parents even had one.

      1. Elizabeth*

        Oh, I’m not that young. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 23. But I did have a Hotmail account and chat on AIM in my late teens, and at that time sending ASCII art to your friends was still a cool thing to do.

    3. RJ*

      Obviously I’m easily confused. I’m facebook friends with some young people who write their smileys backwards like this (:

      When I see the open parenthesis, my default is to interpret it as a frowny face, and I have to backtrack to reinterpret it as a happy face.

      1. Woodward*

        Maybe because some computers automatically turn your :) into a little yellow face icon, but if you type (: it won’t.

  16. Chocolate Teapot*

    I have a superb collection of emoticons (if I do say so myself!) which get used on instant messaging. Depending on the recipient, I might use the simple faces or more complicated cartoon characters, and I have a couple which you can send on their own and convey a whole message.

  17. Mallorie, the recruiter*

    This is so interesting! I use smilies ALL THE TIME in email at work. I guess I never realized it could be so debatable. I also use exclamation points, probably more than periods. I always think of the Seinfeld episode about the phone message with Elaine’s friend having a baby. I often joke that I speak in exclamation points (and emoticons, apparently). Interesting to think about! Just went through my last 20 sent emails and at least a third contained :-).

    1. Jen in RO*

      I wouldn’t mind the smileys, but the exclamation marks would probably make me think you’re very hyper or unnaturally chipper…

    2. Anon*

      I often have to go back through my email drafts and delete exclamation marks after realizing that every. single. sentence. ends in one.

      1. Rachel*

        I do this too. The last step of editing any email is deleting all the unnecessary exclamation points.

        1. ChristineSW*

          I used to be the queen of exclamation points. Never at work though. Whenever I read my old posts on a particular message board I frequent, I shudder at how hyper I probably came across despite having left my teens ages ago.

          Actually, one time at work, I used *one* exclamation point in an email response to an inquiry to the “info” email, and was told it wasn’t appropriate. All I said was “Thank you for contacting Chocolate Teapots Association!”. I guess they didn’t like cheery greetings :/

  18. Steve*

    I rarely use emoticons, but I do have one friend who I iMessage regularly with the emoji keyboard – simply to make the message more ridiculous than it already is. And, seriously, who needs an emoticon of a smiling pile of poop??

  19. Betsy*

    My coworker routinely does things like add inline comments to emails in maroon Bradley Hand, or make the whole text of a miscellaneous email orange, which makes me want to hit him with something blunt, especially when he’s communicating with people outside of our group.

    This is work! You are not here to sprinkle beautiful pixie dust on our lives, you are here to communicate clearly and effectively! Weird loopy fonts and yellow-on-white writing and font size 24 does not help!

  20. AdminAnon*

    I try not to use emoticons very often, especially as a young professional, but I do appreciate the judicious use by others. For example, just this morning I sent my boss an email reminding her of an upcoming project which was put on the back burner due to a recent large-scale event. She responded almost immediately to say that she had just mentioned the upcoming project in a meeting with another employee. Had she left it at that, I probably would’ve been concerned that she was annoyed by my (apparently) unnecessary reminder. However, she inserted a smiley face, which made me read the message as “Thanks for the reminder; so glad we’re on the same page.”

    1. Grumpy*

      And THAT example, with your boss, is a perfect use of a smiley face. Because it indicates she appreciates the reminder, and isn’t mad about it.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        “smiley faces”

        I didn’t learn the word emoticon until, like, last year. That’s what I always used.

        Also, I’m still not sure how it’s pronounced. “ee-mott-ih-con?” “ee-moat-uh-con”?

          1. Anonymous*

            I’ve always heard it as e-mosh-i-con. Like the word emotion. Not e-moat-i-con, like the word emote.

          2. ChristineSW*

            Oh goodness…I’ve been saying it wrong all this time! I’ve been saying “mott”, not “moat”. You learn something new every day!

      2. Nonprofit Office Manager*

        I have zero ideas for word substitution! For some reason, I just have a visceral reaction to the word. I feel the same way when I hear or read the word “tweet” (in the social media context).

  21. Juana*

    I’m wondering if there is also a cultural element to this. In my last job I worked closely with a team in India, and nearly all of them made heavy use of the emoticons built into our instant messaging system.

    I should point out that they were all quite young (early 20s) so that might also have been a factor. And in e-mail, I really only saw the occasional :).

    1. Nonprofit Office Manager*

      Huh! I work with a young team in India and their communications with me are always so stiff and formal-sounding. They also call me “bhenji,” which as far as I know means “sister” and is a sign of respect. May I ask, where were in India were your Indian coworkers based? I work with folks in Punjab, which is in northern India.

      1. Juana*

        My team was in Chennai, near the southern tip of the country. They were much more formal in person than online- for example, when I walked into a room they’d all stand out of respect, then return to whatever they were doing after I said “hello.” It almost reminded me of the military.

        It’s an interesting topic! I’m not sure it was regional, because these people came from different parts of the country. Maybe it was a corporate culture thing?

  22. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

    I must admit to using emoticons way more often then I should in emails. It’s a hard-to-break habit born out of hours-long Harry Potter shipping discussions on Yahoo! Messenger in my early 20s. I don’t use them in formal “you haven’t spent all your money and the due date is approaching” type emails, but I do use them in “Here’s the solution to your problem and please read the FAQ next time! :)” emails– and in informal writing of all kinds. I just noticed recently how dependent I’ve become on them, and have tried to cut back. I’m sure it doesn’t reflect well on me, especially since I’m the go-to person for language/editing questions by virtue of my MA in English (and you don’t know how hard it is for me to not end that sentence with a colon-capital-P)!

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        Hee! There were (and are!) lots of Emilys in HP fandom, sadly, so I doubt it– but always glad to see a fellow HP fan. My screen name was/is Wahlee, or wahlee_98, depending on if someone got Wahlee first. :P My main fandom haunt was the Sugar Quill, and I was the second chair for the live Ron/Hermione vs. Harry/Hermione ship debate at Nimbus 2003 in Orlando (for the R/H side, of course, and that was where my fandom cover was well and truly blown :P).

        I’m not really actively involved in HP fandom these days (who is?) but I keep my toe in, and write for a multi-fandom news website, mostly covering Jane Austen-related stuff like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved.

        1. Al Lo*

          This seems like the most appropriate place to comment on how much I’ve fallen into Harry Potter academic analysis lately. I’ve been blasting through the archives of the Mugglenet Academia podcast (and reading most of John Granger’s [and others’] books on various literary and academic aspects), and despite having read the books many, many times, I’m getting something more out of them this time around than I have for at least the last few times through.

          It makes me a bit sad that I’m of a generation that’s a few years too old to have been in the wave of Harry Potter analysis classes being offered when I was in college.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            I never got to take an HP analysis class, either (I did take two Tolkien classes in grad school, though, and wrote my thesis on The Lord of the Rings). John Granger’s stuff can be interesting, but he went kind of wacky with his Alchemy theory, IMHO. I liked the book The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, which is a collection of different essays. You should also check out the archives of Scribbulus, the Leaky Cauldron’s literary magazine. I was the co-coordinator for about a year, and there’s some awesome stuff on there (including my essay on how the Sorting Hat functions as an Ideological State Apparatus. Maybe some day I’ll finish my Althusserian/Marxist reading of the books. . . ).

            1. Al Lo*

              I do love that the alchemical aspects were recently confirmed on Pottermore, at least to the point that JKR confirmed the naming of Dumbledore and Hagrid as being connected to the albedo and rubedo stages.

              Also, discovering the ring composition of the series (and within each book) blew the books wide open for me, too.

              1. cecilhungry*

                Ring composition? I know I’m a day late (and a dollar short…) on this conversation, but can you point me to sources about this? Sounds fascinating and I’m in the middle of an HP reread…

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        Remember all the different Yahoo! Groups devoted to the various epic fanfics? Paradigm of Uncertainty, the Draco Trilogy, After the End. . . . I think my particular group of fandom friends gravitated to Yahoo!Messenger because we all already had accounts from following After the End. :P That was, of course, before fandom migrated to LiveJournal, and now it’s all on Tumblr.

  23. Ann Furthermore*

    I use an emoticon here and there. Usually, it’s something done along the lines of working on a project with tight deadlines, coordinating testing with a few people. I might find an error in the code but everything else worked fine, and I need to let the developer know. The smiley emoticon sends the message, “Hey, everything looks great, thanks for what you’ve done so far, but this one thing isn’t quite working yet,” instead of “OMG this is crap! What is wrong with you?!” When deadlines are looming and everyone has a million things going on, I always want to make sure the email recipient knows that I appreciate what they’ve done, but I need a little more help, not that I’m picking apart their work.

    I also don’t get the rage against Comic Sans, but I don’t use it in emails or anything else that’s supposed to be professional. I do use it as my IM font though.

    One thing I’ve noticed lately that irritates me is people including something like “Sent with brevity from my [device]” in their signatures on emails that they send from their phones. Maybe it’s just me but that strikes me as a bit officious and pretentious.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t get the rage against Comic Sans, but I agree it’s not appropriate for business use and I find it harder to read than other faults – so dislike I understand, but people get far more irate about it than any font warrants.

      I used to dislike the “sent from my [device]” line, but now that I use them regularly, I find it useful to explain why there are random periods in the middle of words and other bizarre typos. I try to proofread, but I always miss something.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Agreed. These are usually default signatures included by the device manufacturer, and I appreciate them too. I really do want the recipient to excuse my brevity!

      2. HR Competent*

        There was some comments shared sometime in the last year here about “Sent from my Iphone” line and many thought it sounded pretentious. I do like a disclaimer for reasons you stated.
        I changed mine up to “Sent mobile from…”

        1. Cat*

          Same here – I changed to “sent from my phone” as a result of that discussion (Apple doesn’t need free publicity from me), but I will defend the usefulness of that phrase to the death. Not only to excuse brevity, but also to make it clear to whoever I’m e-mailing that I’m not sitting around my computer with nothing better to do than answer their e-mail.

        2. Anonymous*

          It is only pretentious if you are working on the assumption that having an iPhone is better than having some other kind of smart phone. Since most regular folks aren’t too caught up in their iPhone as a status symbol (only die hard apple fans). This seems like a silly worry.

    2. Yup*

      There seems to be two camps feeling the Comic Sans rage: (a) people who work in fields like publishing and graphic design where font choice is an important consideration in their work, and (b) people who associate Comic Sans with the person in their life who sends fifty-eleven chain emails per week, use neon font with giant blinky emoticons in every email, and other markings of poor communication hygiene.

      If you search the archives, there was a discussion here once about the “sent from a” verbiage. I was again surprised at the strength of opinion. (As a result, I did take a lead from EngineerGirl and change mine to “sent from a mobile device.”)

  24. The Other Dawn*

    I don’t usually use them in my work email, unless the person I’m emailing uses them first. I always find it a little weird when someone is emailing me for the first time at work and they use an emoticon.

  25. Sarah*

    I have a grantee that likes to respond to e-mails in 18 point, purple Trebucket MS font! It’s so annoying. As a director of development, it’s very unprofessional.

  26. Mere*

    I only ever use emoticons if i think the tone of my email may be a bit off. and it’s just ONE smiley face!

  27. Leslie Yep*

    It’s such an interesting cultural thing. I came to my current job from a much more formal organization (research) where very crisp and professional communication was the norm. No exclamation marks, definitely no smileys, really no jocularity of any kind.

    So when I started here, ALL of my initial emails came off as very aggressive and even rude, because exclamations and emoticons are the norm. The assumption in my old role was definitely that if someone is displeased with you or your work, they’ll tell you; the assumption here is that you can read that into an email with zero !s or :)s. Ultimately my emoticon workplace is much warmer and more receptive to comfort and feelings, but it does alarm me sometimes when I feel I need to go back through my message to ensure it’s appropriately good humored.

    1. TL*

      I always use it when I’m saying something off-color (to friends who understand my sense of humor.)

      But not professionally.

      1. Mints*

        Haha me too. I use it to imply a kind of That’s what she said or something else that I might wink about.
        Like “I bet you had fun ;)” has a whole different connotation.
        Whenever I see it it in a normal not winky conversation, it really throws me off

      1. Cat*

        Ugh, I have a co-worker who, she says, uses it to mean “mild perturbation” or something akin to that. It drives me nuts.

          1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

            I use :P a lot too, and I think it’s because of the emoticon associated with it in Yahoo! Messenger. It looks happy and silly, and that’s what I’m usually trying to convey with it. Doesn’t always translate so well, though.

            (Here’s a list of the emoticons on Y!M, if you’re interested. :P is also called “tongue.”)

    1. VintageLydia*

      I think fully half of my communications to friends include <3 Though lately nearly all my friends are having a terrible time of it (2013 is really living up to its superstitious number around here) so I'm sending a lot of encouragement with those <3's

  28. Rindle*

    I try not to use them unless, as The Other Dawn mentions, I’m emailing with an emoticon user. I find myself wanting to use them, but I refrain in large part because I want to be taken seriously and I’m a young(er) woman in a largely old(er) male organization. I’m concerned that a significant portion of the population with whom I email would consider emoticons immature and/or girlie. And this is my second comment today about things I don’t do because I don’t want to draw attention at work to the fact that I’m female. Hmm.

  29. Mena*

    I agree with AAM but will add that I tend to not use them when conversing with someone higher than I am in the organization – my boss is ok because we know each other – but anyone else that is more senior, I tend to avoid emoticons.

    And yes, never more than one in any single communication.

  30. PuppyKat*

    I only use the smiley face, mainly because I tend to write in a formal style and want them to break it up a little.

    And regarding LOL above: I don’t use it, have never used it, and happily promise to continue not using it.

  31. PEBCAK*

    If you are sending something with a real danger that the tone will be misunderstood, maybe you need to re-think the wording, or think about whether email is even the appropriate medium at all.

  32. Anonymous*

    Question for the people who use emoticons to make sure the tone of their message is correct:

    Do you often read an email (emoticon-less) and spend time wondering what tone the author meant?

    It’s a sincere question. I can think of only a handful of times where I really cared what the author intended tone-wise in work email. Those were all emails from bosses where I wasn’t sure whether the boss liked my work or not. I’m wondering if this is me being abnormally unconcerned with email tones or not.

    1. Kerry*

      It’s not that I spend hours wondering about tone, but that I think there are times when tone is ambiguous and an emoticon can help clarify it.

    2. Anonymous*

      Regardless of your caring about the tone of messages you receive, if you send messages to others you should be concerned about how they perceive your messages.

      1. Anonymous*

        My point is more that I think the people who put emoticons in emails are over-thinking things. And I’m not really sure that emoticons help the matter – from this column, it seems like there are a significant minority of people who dislike them altogether.

        Only a very few people have talked about whether they actually clarify anything to receive – most people have focused on whether they are appropriate business etiquette instead of whether or not they are useful.

        I never look at co-worker, client, or boss emails and think, “Man, I wish she had put a smiley face in there so I’d know she was in a good mood when she wrote this.” I have occasionally wondered whether my bosses meant something as a complaint or a compliment, but a smiley face wouldn’t have made me feel better; I would’ve preferred more specifics instead. With co-workers or clients, I rarely wonder what they mean, and I am much less hesitant to ask for clarification if I am confused because I find the power dynamic a little less scary.

    3. Jen in RO*

      Yep, sometimes it happens to me. I used to work with a lot of people abroad and there were times when I couldn’t tell if the project manager was annoyed or was just making a statement (especially since I had never seen these people face to face). I also knew some people who are lovely in person, but come across as very harsh in email… they could use some smileys.

  33. Colorado*

    I love this question! I love emoticons but in the work realm use them sparingly. Unless it is someone I am friendly with. Great question though.

  34. Anon with a name*

    Are we talking about emoticons, or *emoticons*?

    When you actually make them out of characters like :) then I think they’re okay when using sparingly, as others have said.

    But if we’re talking about the actual animated picture ones that bounce around and wink at you… Those just seem childish to me. I don’t suppose I’d really think badly of anyone who used one in a professional email, but… I’d notice it. And I think my eye might twitch a little at the school bus yellow they traditionally come in (though to be fair, that one’s probably just me.)

    If they’re the image ones but *not animated*, then that’s a bit more okay. But it’s still a picture, and you had to take time to go click through the list of smileys and choose one…. It takes all of half a second to type ;) and you don’t have to go out of your way to do it, and it doesn’t add an image or an animation to your email. So I’m definitely more okay with character-smileys than actual image emoticons.

    My two cents! Love to hear from others; which type were you talking about, in your comments above?

    1. Betsy*

      As a note, a lot of email programs automatically convert to images. I was startled by my first image emoticon at work, but equally startled when I typed :) in Outlook and had it turn itself into an image for me.

      1. Windchime*

        Eeeek, thank goodness our Outlook doesn’t do this for us at work. I try not to use them too much at work, unless it’s for something quick like “Thanks! :)”. Otherwise, I think the danger exists that they can be taken as a passive-agressive or snarky thing. “One other thing I noticed, the bug 427 is still not fixed even though you marked it Resolved. :)”

        As far as LOL goes….I will plead guilty to doing this, but only with someone that I know well and only if what they said is truly funny. Random, excessive LOL’s are annoying and, as another poster mentioned, make me picture someone going off the edge into hysteria.

    2. Tasha*

      I agree, with the caveat that some programs (Outlook and Skype, for example) can turn ordinary punctuation emoticons into images. Skype in particular is notorious for generating animated bouncing yellow smiley faces with blinking eyes.

  35. Gjest*

    Thanks to Alison for publishing this, and answering. And to everyone else for their comments, too. I’ve been travelling all day, and I’m dead tired, so I will read these all tomorrow for my emoticon guidance.

    Thanks again :)

  36. Felicia*

    I personally don’t like using emoticons in professional emails but my boss and other coworkers use them constantly, so i’ve started a little.

  37. FlorenceFearne*

    I use them pretty frequently, along with LOL. Not because I think either one is terribly professional, though. I work dispatching field service techs, and send hundreds of emails a day, often only with a terse 2 or 3 words. To me, “go home,” is kinda rude and maybe dismissive, where, “go home :)” says, “take the rest of the day off.” same with, “OK” vs, “OK :)” Or maybe I’m imagining that there’s any real distinction.

    And to add to the above, we have a quintessential Comic Sans guy here. Once you’ve worked with one, the font is forever associated with blinky GIFs, bad puns, and general annoyance.

  38. So Very Anonymous*

    I have a colleague who I wish would use smiley faces. She’s friendly in person, but, due to the nature of her job, almost the only time you get email from her is when you’ve made a mistake, even a very minor one, and her tone in email comes off as very harsh and blaming and nitpicky. Several times I’ve had exchanges with her that have felt so harsh that I’ve just gone to her office to talk it out (and be reminded that she’s a nice person with a great laugh). An occasional smileyface would really help.

  39. Maraca*

    I saw the title of this post pop up in my Facebook news feed, and I instantly remembered the time recently when I emailed a vomiting emoticon to my boss. Believe or not, it was hilarious (at least I thought so). We have a great relationship where we have faux insulting email banter from time to time. It’s hard to describe out of context but . . . . anyway. I haven’t read all the comments yet so this may have already been said, but I use emoticons when I have some sort of relationship with that person where I feel comfortable using one. On a side note, I didn’t realize until I was about 28 what the smiley emoticon was. (this was before the ubiquity of texting and social media) I was always, like, why are they putting a colon and parenthesis at the end? Also, Googling “vomiting emoticon” is probably my oddest Google to date.

  40. kf*

    I have a question about the usage of acronyms and the meanings they might convey.

    I had a situation where a person in another department at my company put SNAFU in the title of her email to my department. I thought it was pretty poor taste to use an acronym with the F-bomb in it at work. When I mentioned this to a coworker she said that the F stands for fouled and not the F-bomb. The rest of my department agreed with her.

    Is that a generation difference (my department members are all 13-22 years older than me) or am I wrong in my definition?

    1. Kelly L.*

      Per Wikipedia, you’re right and the “fouled” interpretation is slightly more recent, but I also think the word “snafu” has kind of entered people’s vocabulary as a “regular word” such that people aren’t necessarily thinking out the word associated with each letter as they use it. It’s been used in reputable newspapers:

    2. Elizabeth*

      “Fouled” has been used as a replacement for ages, but you’re right that the original meaning was not so dainty. After all, it was coined in the military during WWII – you don’t think that soldiers would hesitate to use a few salty words, eh?

      I don’t find SNAFU to be as strong as actually using f*** at work, though. It’s along the lines of saying “effed” – not super professional, but not total barroom talk either.

    3. Jen in RO*

      Depends on the relationship between the two departments, I guess. It would amuse me, but I do think it’s pretty inappropriate. Not because of the supposed f-bomb, but because of the implications. Maybe I’ve spent too much time in places where this would be called a “challenged” and not a “f##k up”.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Argh, “challenge” as a euphemism for a screw-up, one of my pet peeves! Though “opportunity” is worse. Not when it actually means “opportunity,” but when it’s used as a substitute for a mistake. “I found several opportunities in your report” meaning errors.

  41. Puddin*

    I think they are ok only if its someone you do business with constantly and they are ok with it. My boss is on the young side and hates them, because he wants to appear more professional, and mature.

  42. HR fledgling*

    My employer has alot of people who do that, two of whom I work with, and it just seems friendly, informal and a reflection of the amazing culture. :)

  43. tickledpink*

    I think it depends on the culture. The culture at my organisation is so informal and happy that smiley faces are a pretty regular occurrence in emails. We run a tight ship, we are just really friendly and get on really well.

  44. John Pierre*

    I agree with it because emotions should be used only if u know the person like he said and its for face-to-face (any emotions) But In Control and Limit Ofcourse i think and sexual relationships like ur girlfriend/boyfriend for example only at work and the message should be serious,pretty long like a sentence and half each message ur send to the manager or employee so that they know you are serious and raise value at work in any company.

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