Recently, I received an email from a student with nothing more than a thumbs-up emoji.

Upon receipt, it seemed terribly inappropriate, especially given that in my business classes, I underscore the importance of properly addressing people in a professional setting. I immediately typed an unapologetically terse response reiterating this point and emphasized that I was more than an instructor, I was also a potential business connection.

In following a professional email strategy, I wrote the email and saved it to "drafts," where it would sit and allow me additional time to contemplate the situation and what I had written. The more I thought about it, however, the more I softened. The email was, in fact, a response to my simple call to action, and it said simply, "OK."

It was remarkably effective and efficient, and because I am inundated with countless long and menial emails every day, the resulting relief on time and stress was not lost on me.

The topic of emojis in professional correspondences is also fresh on my mind as I am traveling and working in China. At the request of my professional Chinese colleagues, I created a WeChat account for correspondences. For anyone unfamiliar with WeChat, it is the primary mobile app used in China for everything from calling and texting to sharing and paying for everything.

What most impressed me about the app was the number of available emojis. They are blunt, clever, cute and serious, and more important, provide any number of ways to express a thought in a single, often animated, character. In a culture whose language is based on symbols, having these should not be surprising.

I realize that apps in the US have an equal number of emojis at our disposal, but because I have long fought the trend to use them in communications, I never paid much attention to them. Not to mention there exists far too many emojis, and most have no specific meaning unless strung together in some hieroglyphic combination.

I also soon learned that most everyone in China uses emojis in messages. Even my professional Chinese contacts used emojis in our correspondences, to which I happily reciprocated.

All of this is to say that I think it is time that we reevaluate our communication culture. And, when I say "we," I mean those of us in the old guard," who grew up on pen-to-paper style communication, who learned cursive in school, and who would be content with sending a written correspondence with the trust of a third party over the course of several days.

It might be time for older generations who have fought against the evolving communication traditions to embrace this new form of communication. And if "embrace" is too strong a word to use so early, let me just say "accept."

After all, countless cultures and civilizations used symbols for communication for millennium. Luckily, the symbols of this new evolution don't require sophisticated training or learning, only a leaning toward empathy to understand the meanings. 

Finally, in no way am I suggesting that we eliminate all formal communication structures. While we may someday use emojis to express our experience in a resume, define a scope of work, or write the next great American novel, I just don't think we are ready for that yet.

Henceforth, however, if you want to correspond with me in email or tweet or instant message, feel free keep your correspondence to a minimal, especially if you can make your point in a single, simple and remarkably effective emoji.

Published on: Dec 17, 2019
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