Bless your heart. :)

I am a big fan of smileys when properly used online. At best, they show your playful, jovial side. They can also help indicate the tone intended by the IMer/emailer. At worst, they can be unprofessional, or highlight the IMer/emailer's attempts to be a dick. Yes, a dick.

Let's take the standard smiley, as an example:


It's cute. It's simple.

But, it can be the equivalent of, "bless your heart."

If you've heard the term before, you'll likely know what I mean. If not, here are some examples of how it's used:

"He can be so disagreeable, bless his heart."

"That sweater does all the wrong things for that girl, bless her heart."

"You're such a b____, bless your heart."

Without fail, I cringe when someone tacks that phrase on to the end of a sentence. It's the same with inappropriate smileys, but they are infinitely more subtle.

I'll admit that smileys are well-intended the vast majority of the time. I use them. I use them a LOT. But there are times when it comes off as insincere, or a feeble attempt to water down a harsh statement. This can be okay for people with whom you are familiar. But if you don't know someone well, you don't have a good idea of their general demeanor.

Imagine if someone you didn't know came up to you and said, "You look delicious!"

That could be incredibly creepy and inappropriate. Imagine that coming from a disheveled, lecherous, stereotypical serial killer-like guy. Creeeepy. Is he planning on keeping you in his basement so he can BBQ you later?

Conversely, it could be friendly and playful, from someone prone to using odd terms. Imagine it coming from a bubbly, upbeat, chipper, cheerful expressive person. Someone who follows that up with things like, "Giiiiirl, that looks *GREAT* on you!" Not so creepy. Weird, but you can tell the intentions are ... well ... better than the first guy.

But online you don't always have that context. Even if you know them in-person, you still may not have a good sense of who they are and what their general intentions tend to be.

The right way to criticize someone you don't know well:

Compliment. Carefully phrased helpful critique. Compliment.

This helps with smileys as well. You need to be careful where you put them.

Example - Right Way:

Thank you so much for writing up that report, it such a big help. You did a great job. Just one quick thing - I think Mr. Anderson's name is spelled "on" instead of "en." Would you mind double-checking that for me? Everything else looks fantastic; I think the section on marketing will be really useful. :)

Good managers at work tend to use this style. I appreciate it immensely.

Example - Wrong Way:

This report has some factual errors. :)

To some, the smiley will seem condescending. To others, it looks encouraging. It's better to give it a context, like the first example.

I'm not saying that people can control how they will be received. That is impossible. You cannot please everyone all the time. There is a lot that happens between intention and perception. You should, however, do your best to make sure the message you send makes a good attempt at conveying what you intended it to mean. You can leave the rest up to the alignment of the planets and direction of the wind.

If not, you might risk falling into the "people I think are dicks," category. Bless your hearts. ;)

1 comment:

L said...

so true! haha. i used "bless his heart" at times, and you're probably wondering who i am. was just browsing, and i happen to like your posts. =)