Communication, Developer growth

Use Emoji to improve communication in your distributed team🌐🗣

You’re sitting there, writing code for another feature request and a message pops in. You know it’s important, since it’s a direct message. You glance at the notification and see the words:

Dev: “You broke the build…”

You click the notification and get taken to the 1-on-1 chat, where you read:

Dev: “You broke the build, you fix?

Short and to the point. An efficient message. Perhaps not the most effective though, since you’re sitting there and scratching your head. You’re feeling annoyed. Not because you broke the build, nor that this person let you know about it. It’s because you can’t seem to get hold of the feeling of the person behind the message.

Are they irritated? Maybe mad? Possible stressed out? None of the above? The uncertainty of this can easily put you in a negative state of mind, and that won’t help with collaboration.

Direct physical communication

What are you going to do about it though? Working on a distributed team is hard, and written communication is even harder. You only wish this developer could have been in the same office as you, since then you could tell about they’re mood:

Dev: “Hey, do you have a sec?”

You: “Sure!”

Dev: *smiling* Yea, you broke the build.

You: What? I did? But I thought I checked that one out.

Dev: *still smiling* It’s a minor thing, but we need to get the build green, mind fixing it?

You: *amused* Of course, give me a few minutes to finish up what I’m doing.

In this example you can see the emotions from the developer sharing the news are shining through, and the dialogue is easy-going. Words count for only 7% of this communication. 38 % comes from tone of voice and the remaining 55% is attributed to body language (source).

So when comparing it to the first example with only text, most of the contextual information is lost. The developer is also attempting to be efficient with shorter sentences, but has just removed all contextual information and you are left with the words alone.

Being more verbose

One could say the original message was a little short, and to the point. So perhaps you could expand on that, and be a lot more verbose:

Dev: Hi! Sorry to bother you, but it looks like you broke the build. It would be awesome if you could fix it so we can get our work through :).

This sentence conveys more intent, and is easier for you to understand. By taking the time to express more of your intent and reasoning, you’re conveying more of the tone of voice.

Adding a simple emoticon in also softens the message, so it’s easier to digest.

Just ➕ some Emoji

What about body language? Is that something we can to that written communication?

Dev: 😯 Oh no! Looks like you broke the build. It’s blocking the 📦🚄.
Would you please fix it, so we can get our work through? 🙏☺️ 🙌 👍?

In this example with emoji and a more verbose text, you get a lot more both the tone of voice and some of the body language of the developer reaching out to you. It’s easier to understand that they need your help, and are asking you in a good way.

Firstly expressing his astonishment with ‘😯’. Then coloring the message a little with release train 📦🚄. Finally ending the request on a positive note by emphasising “please” 🙏, staying positive ☺️, lifting spirits with a double high-five 🙌 and a thumbs-up 👍.

Overdoing it

Yes, it is actually possible to overdo emoji use:

Dev: 👋Hi! It 👀 like you 🚫 the 🏗. It would be 👍 if you could 🛠. Thanks! 🙏💪👊

This example shows how inlining emoji can make the sentence hard to read. It’s going overboard and cancelling the benefits of using emoji to begin with.

Don’t do this.

🎁🆙 (Wrapping Up 😜)

You’ve seen how a simple message has gone from short, arrogant and possibly insulting to relaxed, fun, but at the same time urgent through a simple focus on conveying more tone of voice and body language.

“You broke the build, you fix?

⬇️

Hi! Sorry to bother you, but it looks like you broke the build. It would be awesome if you could fix it so we can get our work through :).

⬇️

😯 Oh no! Looks like you broke the build. It’s blocking the 📦🚄.
Would you please fix it, so we can get our work through? 🙏☺️ 🙌 👍?

⬆️✋🚫

👋Hi! It 👀 like you 🚫 the 🏗. It would be 👍 if you could 🛠. Thanks! 🙏💪👊

Written communication within any team is a challenge. Try being as verbose as possible to capture your tone of voice. Use emoji’s in a smart way to sprinkle more of that tone and even some body language to the mix. If you’re really feeling bold, throw in some animated gif’s.

Spend more time writing messages, your teammates will appreciate it. ✌️

Do you use emoji to improve your team’s communication? Reach out to me directly if you have any thoughts, questions or criticisms. Or leave a comment below.

  • Simen Hansen

    Hi Pav, very interesting stuff you got going on here! 😺 I find myself relying on emoji often in my written communication – but I sometimes struggle to find the right emoji that describes my intent the best 🐱👓. In the context where I know the recipient uses an other OS than me in 1-1 communications it can be a struggle. This VOX article describes more in detail how different emoji-sets causes different intent across devices and OS. http://www.vox.com/2016/4/13/11422886/emoji-interpretation-different

    So it was very fascinating to read your written meaning of each of the emojis – and that they didn’t directly correlate with my own understandings.

    Take this emoji for instance:
    🙌 (This is totally wierd in Windows emoji)

    As you describe it as a “double high five”. Where as I see this more as “praise” – and I would use it in a setting where with words i would write things like “awesome” or “thank god”. The emoji-pedia kinda agree with my view of it.
    http://emojipedia.org/person-raising-both-hands-in-celebration/

    So to take this post to an even deeper meta-level, do emojis in itself capture the real intent? 🤔

    • Really good points about the dialects of emojis, Simen. Thanks! They certainly do add another dimension to the already complex written communication.

      I still believe that even a “bad” emoji will tip an otherwise neutral / negative message into something with feeling and lightness.