The era of the Emoji


Is the emoji taking over the ability of people to communicate openly and honestly with each other vs. in a face-to-face manner?

Open any social media channel and you will see a variety of emoticons and emoji’s being used to express anything from feelings of happiness and humour to sadness, anger and frustration. According to Swyft Media, 74 percent of people in the U.S. regularly use stickers, emoticons or emojis in their online communication, sending an average of 96 emojis or stickers per day.

Our smart phones come pre-installed with a range of these colourful characters and if you don’t like those, you can download a variety of others from smiley faces to hearts, symbols, icons and animated animal stickers.

If that’s not enough to keep you busy, you can purchase Kim Kardashian’s Kimoji, her personalised emoji range which begs the question, has the emoji become the new fashionista of communication and expressing one-self?

Younger generations of today communicate primarily via digital channels using anything from abbreviated words to emojis to voice clips. Perhaps they know something older generations are not aware of? Scientific studies show that using emojis can make you appear friendlier, grow your popularity on social media, and even make you happier offline.

What does this mean for couples and communication in their relationships?

Many a marriage or relationship therapist can tell you stories of couples having arguments via WhatsApp, BBM and other such channels. Is this aiding or detracting from being able to say what one is really feeling?

In some instances couples say it is because they feel they can’t really express themselves openly and honestly to their partner for fear of retaliation so it’s a safer way for them to do this. In other instances it is because they feel they are not really being heard or understood by their partner and communicating this way helps them get their message across.

Scientists have discovered that when we look at a smiley face online, the same parts of the brain are activated as when we look at a real human face. Our mood changes and we might even alter our facial expressions to match the emotion of the emoji.

Using emoji’s can help reinforce what one is feeling but are we starting to rely more and more on this little character to communicate our emotions?

From an organisational communication perspective we know customers are not afraid to say how they feel about a Brand, product or service. Just look at any Brands social media pages and you can see messages of complaints or compliments posted by customers. It’s the digital era and never more has instant gratification (or acknowledgement) been a requirement than today whether it be seeking information or wanting answers.

In the workplace, many managers and teams are using technology to communicate with each other especially where teams are geographically spread or work remotely.

Whilst face-to-face communication is a more honest form of communication as we can pick up both verbal and non-verbal cues such as body language, tone of voice, words used, facial expressions and more, the emoji seems to be making up for this in the digital space.

Is there still room for misunderstanding when using emojis? Yes there can be as people subscribe different meanings to different symbols and icons based on their own upbringing, culture, identity, personality and personal interpretation – a smiley face could be interpreted as being friendly, being sarcastic, making fun of or humouring the other.

Is the emoji affecting our ability to communicate and express ourselves and what we are feeling at a face-to-face level as many of us follow the trends and use emojis as part of our daily communication?

Will the emoji play an even larger role when it comes to levels of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, relationships, communicating with others and leadership outside as well as within organisations?

Paula Quinsee is a Life and Relationship Coach in Johannesburg. She teaches individuals and organisations the importance of healthy relationships using emotional intelligence. Attend one of her regular monthly workshops for great empowering tools. For more information go to