A smiley face won’t help.

By Sarah Yang
August 15, 2017

Emojis are everywhere these days—in text messages, home décor, and let’s not forget the animated film dedicated to those yellow blobs that hit theaters this summer. But one place where you might want to avoid the emojis is in your work emails.

According to a new study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of Negev in Israel and published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, smiley face emojis and other emoticons may not be positively received in workplace emails. “Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” Ella Glikdson, PhD, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, said in a release. “In formal business emails, a smiley is not a smile.”

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The researchers, with experts from the University of Haifa and Amsterdam University, conducted experiments with 549 participants from 29 different countries. One experiment involved having participants read a work email—some including smileys, some not—from an anonymous person and evaluating the person’s competence and warmth from the email. From this experiment, the researchers found that the smileys did not convey warmth and actually made the sender seem less competent. Additionally, when participants were asked to respond to those emails, they included more information when the previous email did not include a smiley. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing,” Glikson said.

The study also found that gender played a role in perception as well. When the sender’s gender was unknown, many participants assumed that the person who sent the smiley face was a woman. But it did not play a role in the evaluation of competence or friendliness.

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For now, researchers recommending avoiding smileys, especially if you don’t already know the person or are unsure of your rapport with them.

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