Not everyone understands online sarcasm, some don't even understand it offline. Emoticons are a very normal thing to include in casual online communication. However, not everyone understands that :-) is supposed to be a smile, and ;-) is supposed to be a wink. Do you use Microsoft Outlook for email? You probably have the popular Wingdings font installed. Your cute smile that you include in your message confuses the pants off the recipient if they use a different email client, because the smile appears as a single capitalized letter "J".
When corresponding in a professional manner via email, it is best to avoid sarcasm and emoticons. Avoid slang too, because that can really mess things up for you.
I once ran into a problem with my colleagues at a company I worked for. There was confusion over what was needed for an important project. I composed a detailed email to clarify everything, but I made one big mistake.
Who the heck is Bob?
I meticulously wrote out each step needed for the project in a bulleted email. To be absolutely sure that the team would understand what was needed, I proofread my message multiple times before hitting the send button. My big mistake was how I signed off in the message.
You see, I'm Canadian. My Mum is British. That wasn't a typo; I actually call her "Mum". In Canada and the UK, there is a popular expression that we use instead of saying, "And there you have it", the expression is one that completely messed up my perfect email. I ended my email with, "and Bob's your uncle."
I hit send, and I sat back in my chair with a deep feeling of satisfaction for helping everyone understand what was needed. We worked in an open-environment without walls; I could see some of my colleagues at their desks. Their heads were down focusing on their work. Their email notifications went off as my message arrived in their inboxes. Slowly, their heads began to rise with looks of bewilderment across their faces. Finally, one of them exclaimed, "Who the heck is Bob?"
It was tragically hilarious that I then had to explain what the sentence meant. Not only this, but I had to reply to other colleague's confused emails to me who were not in the room. Yes, it made for a great laugh, but caused a big disruption in the time we could have been using to finish the pressing project.
Whether you're writing an email to follow up with a person you met at a networking event, replying to a customer, or emailing your boss, do yourself a favor and avoid sarcasm, slang, and emoticons. Nobody has the time for long-winded email messages these days, so keep them short and sweet.
And Bob's your uncle.
This post originally appeared in the Tennessean newspaper.