Emoji Intelligence: Three Tips to Enhance Your Communication

More than innocuous icons, emoji may help to fill the gap in text communication.

Posted May 11, 2018

In-person communication involves much more than words. We decipher nuanced meaning from other important factors, such as tone, facial expressions, and body language. Some experts claim that these combined variables may comprise a larger fraction of communication than our words themselves, the message. Yet when communicating through technology, a majority of our message could become lost in translation.

Source: Pexels

Emotions are informative clues in understanding ourselves and others. Yet when it comes to emails, texts, and other messaging, emotions may get lost in the mix. The failure to clearly convey emotions and the inability to accurately decipher underlying emotions could prompt both intrapersonal and interpersonal conflict. To avoid perpetuating these problems, we must begin to better understand emotions in online situations and cultivate communication strategies to make messaging as effective as face-to-face communication.

Emoji (yes, that’s the plural form) may be a way to bridge messages from sender to recipient, and could help enhance effective communication. You may doubt the utility of emoji in fostering emotional intelligence and effective communication. After all, how could emoji be substitutes for the real deal? How would one be taken seriously? Glikson and colleagues found that while in-person smiles increase both competence and warmth, smileys in emails had a negative effect on competence and no effect on warmth. However, the condition presented to the 569 participants from 29 countries were smiles from an unknown sender. Therefore, perhaps an exploration of a smiling emoji with a familiar friend may have different results.

Maybe you’re thinking emoji are for millennials, but emoticons are commonly used by individuals older than 30. Park and Sundar assert that while emoji may seem silly, they can be practical in conveying empathy within business scenarios, specifically within customer relations. Further, this finding contradicts Gilkson and colleagues’ findings that emoji may not affect warmth in a professional setting. Hence, the context of the scenario may be essential to consider when attempting to bridge the communication gap with emoji.

Creative Magic/Pixabay
Source: Creative Magic/Pixabay

Here are three simple considerations to help you be mindful of your emoticon use, foster your emotional intelligence, and improve communication:

1. Consider that emoji can be more than just silly symbols.

Whether you find them adorable or irritating, emoji can be used to fill gaps in communication. Hence, ignoring someone’s emoticon use could be similar to listening to only parts of what they are sharing with you. Emoji may be a crucial part of the message you are reading, not just a whimsical afterthought. Regardless of whether or not you decide to use them, others certainly are; in order to fully grasp their message, you may need to consider that they are more than innocuous icons.

2. Consider that emoji can be the missing link in text communication.

When talking in person, you may not recognize how much of your message is more than words. Your facial expressions, tone, gestures, body language, pace, volume, and eye contact all contribute to conveying communication clearly. In typed communication, these missing pieces could cause a rather confusing exchange. Without these key components, it’s likely that individuals may miss sarcasm or misconstrue the intensity of the message. Further, your present emotions tend to influence how you interpret messages; hence, they may skew your view.  Emoji can help to clarify the missing emotions, which otherwise may be left up to interpretation by the reader.

3. Consider that context can be a crucial factor in emoji communication.

When considering the meaning behind the emoji in a message, be mindful that different settings have mixed reception. For example, your decision to illuminate your message with a series of emoji may vary depending on whether you’re talking to your partner or your boss. Nevertheless, in some professional settings, emoji are received as friendly, so be sure to reflect on your personalized context. Further, beyond setting, there may be different interpretations across cultures. Whereas emoji may help to bridge a language barrier with visuals, they may also vary in reception, depending on the person’s background.

You may or may not wish to use emoji, but the reality is that they are here to stay. Putting aside your personal choice, many people are using emoji to illustrate their messages and to effectively communicate, and we may benefit from considering their value in language. Nevertheless, this isn’t a paid promotional message from the Unicode Consortium. Emoji can be a practical way to avoid the miscommunications that ensue from text communication, but they are not the only way. Textisms (e.g., capitalization, punctuation) and video messaging can help to fill this void as well.