Communication Hacks For Women: Emojis vs. Effective Communication

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Women walk a fine line in many professional environments, especially when it comes to communication.

A well-intentioned, friendly gesture or anecdote can unfortunately easily be misconstrued as “weak” or unprofessional. With digital communication dominating many professional conversations, it’s often hard to read tone.

Emoji symbols were designed, in part, to address this problem. Some use a well-placed smiley face to indicate a friendly tone -- but do emojis belong in professional conversations?

My answer: it depends.

I recently came across a tweet from Sonia Gupta, a lawyer turned software engineer, that sparked my interest in writing this blog post.

While I don’t necessarily disagree with Gupta’s opinion on emojis in the workplace, I choose to take a slightly different, strategic approach. 

Rule No. 1: Emoji usage must match the communication habits and team culture.
Sometimes, an emoji really is the best way to convey a sentiment, especially in combination with text. 

In my experience, younger teams tend to use emojis as a core communication mechanism. This can be off-putting to more senior professionals who are accustomed to more formal etiquette.

For this reason, personally, and within my teams, I typically restrict emoji usage to chat platforms like Slack, Skype and WeChat -- and almost never use them in email. The reason is that these real-time chat tools are optimized for speed, which suits emoji usage. 

Rule No. 2: Emojis must add value to the conversation.
Following my Golden Rule that every piece of communication must catalyze action or accelerate momentum, every emoji I use must replace -- not duplicate -- a phrase or sentence. If an emoji accompanies text, the emoji must add unique value.

What does that mean? 

I have a series of emojis that, when used with my team, initiates specific actions as a response to individual messages. 

In Slack, for example, this happens through reactions.

A 🚀 reaction to a blog post draft, for example, means "this is approved and/or ready to ship." And ✅ confirms I've completed an action or deliverable, like sending an email or scheduling a call.

A 👀 reaction means "I'm looking at this -- stand by for next steps.”

A 🎯 reaction can substitute for "exactly," "spot on" or "bullseye." It means I cosign the message wholeheartedly.

A 💡 reaction means "great idea."

And when working with other women on a project, 👯 as a reaction signifies "we're in sync.”

On iMessage, I use Tapback functionality to duplicate this functionality, albeit with a more limited set of options.

The bottom line: There’s a time and place for everything, even emojis. When used strategically and thoughtfully, they can enhance your message and significantly streamline your communication.