Business used to be a serious business – full of suits, handshakes and frowning – and the language used within it was equally serious. Yet, like many people, in recent years I have found that the language of business is being increasingly dominated by smileys, lolz and exclamation marks.
I’ve heard people say that emoticons make a mockery of business and of the English language. It is easy to object and attribute the so called “deterioration of the English language” to the rise of chat programs and social networking, as well as the induction of the digital generation into the professional workforce, but emoticons have a very significant purpose to serve.
Above all, business is a very precise business. For this reason it is unfortunate that precision is not the strong suit of the English language.
Written English is riddled with inconsistencies. For instance, the differences between “live” and “live”, “wind” and “wind” or the positive and negative meanings of the word “wicked” (to name a few!). But it’s not just the words you write that are the problem; it’s also the context in which you write them.
How many times have you been on msn or facebook chat, said something sarcastically and the person you’re chatting to took it the wrong way? For those of you that enjoy sarcasm as much as I do, the answer is probably a lot!
Business writing used to be dominated by law and accounting, neither of which can be called conversational. Now that business focuses much more on email, chat and the broader written word, businesspeople face misinterpretation on a daily basis.
Emoticons simply and symbolically contextualize what you’re saying, so that the reader interprets it correctly. For example, by adding a simple “;P” to the end of the statement “that’s it, you’re fired.”, making it “That’s it, you’re fired ;P”, you can save the reader a lot of emotional distress because you’re letting them know that you’re being sarcastic.
When you’re dealing with clients, colleagues, money and/or other assets, making sure that you are interpreted correctly is incredibly important. Though the older generation of senior executives may not put smileys at the end of their emails yet, but emoticons are now a significant part of the business lexicon and an important tool for communicators.