Young Adults using smart phones

How emojis enrich nonverbal communication


Do you remember the days when your grandparents used to complain, “Nobody writes letters anymore!” Or maybe you remember your parents’ protest, “Nobody calls anymore!” Soon you may be complaining, “Nobody even uses words anymore!”

Emojis (or “picture character” in Japanese), found on smartphones and tablets have quickly become a lingua franca for younger generations. So much so, that in 2015 Oxford Dictionary announced the Word of the Year wasn’t a word, it was the “tears of joy” emoji.1

So, how have emojis managed to take some forms of communications by storm? Maybe it’s because the use of brief messages via text and social media leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In 1971, psychologist Albert Mehrabian found only 7% of communication is verbal. Thirty-eight percent is vocal (our intonation) and 55% is nonverbal (our body language).2 Today, emojis are often used to increase the accuracy and nuance of short — and often misunderstood — text messages.

Billions of times each day these small digital images are used to create nonverbal cues like facial expressions or hand gestures. A wink, throbbing heart or thumbs up could be as important to understanding the other person’s message — and personality — as eye contact, a touch or a nod of the head.

While emojis are sometimes used to reduce ambiguity, such as making sure someone knows you’re only teasing, they can also be used intentionally to convey a tone that is lost in digital communication. To show how important these icons can be, let’s imagine the following conversation with and without emojis.

Conversation with emoji examples

While technology on social media is often embraced by younger generations, the obsession with emojis now transcends all generations. However, there is often a generation gap in emoji translation. To help you get started here are examples of how younger generations are pairing two or more emoji together to form sentiments.

Emoji meanings

1 Oxford Dictionaries.

2 Mehrabian, Albert (1971). Silent Messages (1st ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

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Associated Tags: Advising Across Generations

Traditionalist, before 1946; Baby Boomer, 1946-1964; Generation X, 1965-1979; Millennial, 1980-1995; Generation Edge, after 1995

This information is prepared by an unrelated independent third party, BridgeWorks, and is provided for informational purposes only. Waddell & Reed, Inc., believes the information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but does not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided.