How to Improve Communication by Text (and Texting)

Text is a very limited medium. Make sure you're using it so it gets your point across.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #494

Use Emoticons to Express Quick Emotion

Since text-only communication doesn’t have any of the nonverbal cues that express emotion, learn a few emoticons you can use to convey emotional intent. Some basics:

  • Colon, dash, right parenthesis is a smiley face: :-)
  • Semicolon, dash, right parenthesis is a wink: ;-)
  • Using a left parenthesis instead is a frown. :-(
  • Less-than-sign plus a 3 is a heart: <3

You don’t need to use a ton of these, but before sending a text, re-read it and consider whether you need to add an emotional cue. In person, you might say “the Oreo Ice Cream cake you baked, substituting oatmeal for Oreos, was everything I expected!” Your voice tone would make it clear whether that’s a compliment or an insult. If you’re sending it in text, include a couple of positive-emotion emoticons, so your recipient knows for sure that you meant it in the positive sense.

All caps makes you seem hysterical... like a modern world leader.

(Of course, we all know that substituting anything for the Oreos in an Oreo Ice Cream cake could not positively be a positive experience, but this is, fortunately, a hypothetical example.)

Use Emojis to Express More Subtle Emotion

In addition to emoticons, you can use face emoji. They’re little cartoon faces and icons. You’ll have to do some hunting around to find out how to type them, as they’re different on smartphones and desktops across different vendors.

Emojis give a wider range of expression than emoticons. There are emojis for hugs, sadness, skeptical glances, surprise, joy, laughing, and literally hundreds of others. Emojis let you get more nuanced in your text communication than mere emoticons or words.

Use Reactions

Reactions started on social media and have started to transition to texting as well. On the iPhone, you can tap a text message someone sent and send a reaction: an exclamation point, a laugh, and so on.

This lets you convey an emotional reaction to something without a full-fledged, verbal response. It’s like a quick smile or frown during an in-person conversation. I was initially skeptical of how useful these are, but I’m growing to realize they add more nuance to a medium that has far too little in the first place.

You can use reactions for more than their literal meaning. My mysterious friend K sometimes uses reactions as a kind of conversational punctuation. When they want to make it clear they’ve read a message, but don’t have anything to say in response, they give a little thumbs-up reaction. Then their conversational partner knows they’ve been heard, but isn’t expecting K to send any more of a response.

I’m Stever Robbins. Follow GetItDoneGuy on Twitter and Facebook. Want great keynote speeches on productivity, Living an Extraordinary Life, or entrepreneurship? Hire me! Find me at http://SteverRobbins.com

Image of cell phone and chat bubbles © Shutterstock


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.