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50 Percent of Emails and Texts are Misunderstood, But There's An Easy Way to Change That

By Ryan Jenkins

We aren’t communicating as well as we think, and it could be affecting the way our employees perceive us. According to Nick Morgan, author of Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, people think others understand their messages 90 percent of the time, but the actual statistic is only 50 percent. So how are people perceiving things the wrong way? One example: Recipients of a two-word email or text such as "nice job" or "great work” interpret the message as sarcastic 60 percent of the time, Morgan writes.

Why do people misinterpret so frequently? Humans have a tendency to assume the worst when the intent of communication isn’t clear. The negative bias that once alerted the brain of cavemen and cavewomen of potential dangers, like bears or alligators, is still very active in the minds of today’s modern workers.

How do we overcome negative biases hijacking the intended meanings of our communications and ensure our messages aren’t misunderstood half the time? Use emojis. Here are four reasons why.

1. Emoji acceptance is growing.

An early indicator of how culturally-ingrained emojis had become was in 2015 when the Oxford Dictionaries' “Word of the Year” wasn’t a word but actually the "face with tears of joy" emoji.

Sixty-one percent of emoji users use emojis at work. Twenty-six million custom emojis have been created in Slack since the “Add Custom Emoji” feature was introduced and “emoji use is basically universal” for the 13 million daily active users of Microsoft's unified communication and collaboration platform, Teams, according to the Wall Street Journal.

2. Emojis help clarify emotional intent.

Research indicates that the same part of the brain that processes human faces also processes emojis. When an emoji conveys a human emotion, it can be transferred in a text. Therefore, emojis help communicators manage the emotional tone of digital messages. And emojis help recipients interpret the tone of digital messages.

For example, an “Ok” text from someone can be interpreted many different ways: acceptance, apathy, submission or passive aggressiveness, among them. But an "Ok" with a smiling face is easily interpreted as positive acceptance. Adding an emoji removes the emotional ambiguity. Emojis can also create more efficiency by quickly conveying the intent and context that would otherwise be missing in a message.

Unsure what emoji to use for a certain emotion? Use Emojipedia to search emojis by emotions or other categories.

3. Emojis enhance relationships

The proper use of emojis helps people form relationships and understand one another, according to a recent review that took into account 11 databases and 50 studies on the use and impact of emojis in communication.

More specifically, when emojis are used at work, the majority of emoji users feel they positively impact likability (78 percent) and credibility (63 percent), and make positive news more sincere (74 percent), according to Adobe. And 81 percent of emoji users believe that people who use emojis are friendlier and more approachable. In addition, 94 percent of emoji users said the “ability to communicate across language barriers” was the greatest benefit of using emojis.

4. Emojis can close the generational gap

Although using emojis at work is becoming more commonplace, many of the mixed views of emojis can be explained largely by age. In general, the emerging generations (Millennials and Gen Z) place more value on using emojis, while established generations (Gen X and Baby Boomers) tend to view emojis as unprofessional and counterproductive.

Professionals over 45 years old are more likely to say that emoji use at work is inappropriate versus appropriate, according to SurveyMonkey data. In addition...

  • Only 15 percent think emojis improve workplace communication

  • 29 percent say it makes colleagues look unprofessional; the number jumps to 36 percent when upper management uses them

  • 22 percent say it makes colleagues come across as either annoying, less genuine or less competent

Conversely, young professionals overwhelming view emojis as appropriate for work. In fact, only 17 percent of young adults consider emoji use unprofessional, according to that same SurveyMonkey data.

Using emojis with Gen Z is a low-risk, high-return way to connect with and influence the next-generation workforce. Here are a few reasons emojis might be the answer to closing the generational gap when communicating with Gen Z, according to statistics from the Adobe and SurveyMonkey reports.

1. Emojis are native to them.

  • Gen Z uses emojis exclusively in text messaging 39 percent of the time.

2. Emojis are “work-appropriate” to them.

  • 46 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds think emojis are work-appropriate.

3. Emojis elicit truer emotion.

  • 58 percent of Gen Z feel emojis best express their emotions, compared to 48 percent of Millennials, 34 percent of Gen X and 37 percent of Boomers. And 83 percent of Gen Z are more comfortable expressing their emotions through emojis than a phone call, compared to 71 percent of Millennials, 61 percent of Gen X and 53 percent of Baby Boomers.

4. Emojis improve perceptions.

  • When a colleague uses emojis in their communications with Gen Z, Gen Z finds them to be more fun (50 percent), more approachable (43 percent), and kinder (35 percent).

5. Emojis can show support.

  • Over 90 percent of emoji users agree emojis lighten the mood of conversations and show support.

6. Emojis allow expression.

53 percent of Gen Z use emojis to be funny.

Beyond emojis, sending GIFs to Gen Z can provide similar benefits as highlighted above. However, there can be greater risk of misinterpretation with GIFs as certain cultural references depicted in the GIF may not extend across generations. When using a GIF be sure the Gen Z recipient will get the intent behind the reference.


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