Emoji Misinterpretations Can Muddy Business Communications

Emoji badges on blue background

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New research suggests that more people are misinterpreting the meaning behind emoji. With more business correspondence occurring over text or email, people often turn to emoji to add emotional context to their messages. But you should use them carefully when communicating with clients, suggests a report in the science journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Researchers note that men and women often interpret common emoji differently, which could lead to misunderstandings. Lara Jones, a psychologist at Wayne State University in Michigan, and other researchers found that women tend to use emoji more than men. Emoji use is also more common among younger adults and is more prolific in communication with friends than bosses or other work leaders.

But women may read more into emoji than men, according to the study. For example, women may interpret neutral or ambiguous facial emoji as more negative than men. Jones cites the “thinking” emoji as one example: Men tend to view this emoji as slightly positive, but women often view it as negative.

Researchers also note that the “smiley face with horns” and “eyebrows raised” emoji are also commonly interpreted by men and women differently. Other studies note the smiley face emoji may just mean happiness to older age groups but could send vibes of sarcasm and condescension to younger people. Likewise, a skull emoji may mean danger to some but “dying of laughter” to others.

Researchers don’t advise people to stop using emoji altogether; the symbols have become too common and important in digital conversations and can make communication feel more personal. But researchers suggest avoiding using them with recipients of a different generation until you learn the recipients’ communication style and preferences.