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With emails being one of the main forms of communication today, it can be difficult to ensure your message is clear without the use of voice inflection or facial expressions. So it isn’t surprising that you might use emojis to add a personal touch to your emails. But as it turns out, these friendly faces could actually be hurting your career.

A new study from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel found that people responded negatively when a smiley face emoticon was used in a professional email. This seems like the best time to use a sad face emoticon… then again, that would probably look unprofessional.

Published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, the study assessed 549 participants from 29 different countries. Participants were given professional emails to read, with and without smiling emoticon faces, and were asked to share their perception of the people who wrote the emails. When asked to rate the warmth and professionalism of the emails, participants generally felt that those who used smiling emoticons were not any friendlier, and even seemed less professional than those that didn’t use emoticons.

Dr. Ella Gilkson, one of the co-authors of the study, noticed that not only did smiley faces damage the reputation of the sender, they also influenced how participants responded to emails. “The study… found that when the participants were asked to respond to e-mails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the e-mail did not include a smiley,” said Gilkson. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing.”

Thankfully, there are some cases where it’s okay for emoticon lovers to continue sending tiny, smiling faces. “For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender,” said Gilkson.

So unless you really know a person well, you might want to skip the emoticon.

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