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Use Smileys to Add Emotion to Your Emails

May 1, 2001

The recipient of an email message from you cannot see you. She cannot see you smiling. She cannot see you frowning.

She cannot hear you either. She cannot hear you laughing. She cannot hear the flirtatious tone in your voice.

All of the essential nonverbal communication that takes place when you talk to someone is missing in email. And, as we all know, more important than what you say often is how you say it. The information encoded in the tone, mimics and gestures is lost.

Of course, most of the time we do not know that we are sending sublime messages alongside the pure verbal communication. We do not know it with a good reason: we would not want to tell it.

Still, this information is essential, and there is a lot we want to tell about how we feel.

If all of undercover information that goes with a message is missing, this is destined to be a source of formidable misunderstandings. Misunderstandings can always happen, often they are funny, but they can also make life extremely difficult.

Imagine receiving an email that says: "And, btw, I want to eat you."When you're not sure of your girlfriends intentions, whether they are cannibalistic or quite obvious, you'll pause for a moment, stunned and irritated.

When you write an email, you can use language to express your feelings. Depending on how gifted you are as a writer your mileage will vary. The email above could read like: "And, btw, I want to eat you, and I hope you enjoy me, too." Or maybe: "And, btw, I want to eat you. (That was a funny remark)"

Using the means of language is difficult when it comes to emotions, and it is often unnecessarily cumbersome. That's why a shorthand has developed. They are called emoticons or smileys, and a nice way to convey emotions via email.

Using an emoticon, the above email could look like this: "And, btw, I want to eat you. ;-)" Here, ";-)" means something like a wink and indicates that you've just made a funny, maybe slightly sarcastic remark.

Take a look at the emoticon: ;-) It looks like a smiling, winking face. If you don't see that at once, try tilting your head to the left a bit.

The most basic emoticon is the simple smiley: :-) It indicates that you are smiling and happy about what you have just said.

Another essential emoticon is the frowning face: :-( Hopefully, you don't have to use that too often, as it stands for sadness and shows you're unhappy about what you have just said.

In between the smiley and the frowning face is the following emoticon: :-| It indicates indifference and that you don't care.

A forth emoticon that you can probably use is the laughing face: :-D Let's hope you can employ it often.

"YOU smile upon your friend to-day,
To-day his ills are over;
You hearken to the lover’s say,
And happy is the lover."

A.E. Housman
A Shropshire Lad


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