Is it acceptable to use smiley faces in business emails?

by Steve Manning

I have a problem. :-(
I seem to be including smiley face characters in more and more of my emails these days. :-)
Most times, it’s quite upbeat.
Other times, it’s just a cheeky wink. :-)

All pretty harmless stuff really. Why do I do it? Well, mainly for the following reasons.

1. So the person reading my email knows that I’ve made a joke.
2. Because I’m keen to convey a light-hearted tone.
3. Because I find it an easy way to emotionally connect with the recipient.

The thing is, I’ve become a bit self-conscious about it lately. Here I am happily inserting smiley faces like they’re going out of fashion, but I stopped the other day and thought, “Do some people get annoyed by this practice?” It was a sobering thought and caused me to hesitate the next time I was about to unleash a smile.

So the questions rattling around in my head are these: As a businessperson dealing with other business people in grown-up land, should I be more careful about using the ol’ smiley face in emails? Or does the casual nature of email communication mean we can be a little more relaxed about the way we convey our message or feelings?

Before we go any further, let me clarify something. If I’m dealing with a new client or someone that I don’t know well, I won’t use a smiley face. My instincts tell me that it’s not a professional thing to do so early in a relationship. But if I know the person or they’ve become a regular client, I’m more likely to flash them a smile, particularly if they’ve flashed me first.

I think I’m giving this topic a lot of thought because I’m acutely aware of the fact that the mood or tone of an email can be misread so easily. What someone may consider flippant or humorous, may be entirely offensive or rude to someone else. It’s the danger of emails.

And as a Copywriter working from home, the bulk of my communication is via email, so I need to ensure that my emails hit the right mark in terms of tone and clarity.

I know one thing for sure…when someone uses a smiley face in an email to me, I instantly feel more relaxed and buoyant when dealing with that person. Whether it’s right or wrong, that tiny emotional connection can make a big difference in how the message is received.

So what do you think about smiley faces in business emails; a great way to convey mood, :-)
or a childish habit that has no place in the business world? :-(