At first, I never understood why anyone above the age of 14 uses emojis. The English language has a wide variety of words, grammatical constructions, and even punctuation to help us articulate anything we want to say—and to even help the most inarticulate among us say what they want. It can be complex even in its simplest forms sometimes—cue the old joke of the linguistics professor who announces to his class that in English, you cannot use two positives to form a negative, to which a student screams out from the back of the room, “yeah, right!”—but our language and its ancestors have served us well for a quite some time. And the same of the other modern languages as well.

But I was won over to emojiland with a key and hard-earned realization of a fantastic use case for emojis: receipt acknowledgment.

Here’s a frustration all professionals face daily: you send a message to a client or anyone else you work with, and you never know if it was received and even merely processed in the recipient’s mind. And the best behavior I’ve found to solve this is to follow the convention of acknowledging everything non-trivial you get. Just contrast the extremes, Kant-style: Imagine hiring architect [X] who never responds to an email, vs architect [Y] who responds to every email he gets within minutes or hours even if only by saying 6 words: “Got it, will dive in later.” Ceteris Paribus, which architect would you trust more?

The reasons why acknowledging that you received are in the “obvious once you’ve been told” category, including:

  • If you don’t acknowledge getting it, your client or potential client won’t be sure you saw it, so they’ll keep on wondering if you even got it and/or are dealing with it
  • Acknowledging it gives you a chance to set the expectations for when you’ll respond to it
  • It gives your client confidence that you are on top of things
  • It reduces the probability that anything gets lost or forgotten
  • It sets the expectation that you now “own” the issue and will respond when you have something to say, and issue ownership is key to goal achievement
  • Silence makes the other side both frustrated and confused

But here’s the problem with acknowledging everything you get: it’s friggin’ annoying! Even just writing the six word email above—just “got it, will dive in later”—to every email, quickly becomes a burdensome pain.

And it’s even more annoying in chat or on platforms like Slack, in which everyone acknowledging seeing everything quickly clutters up the entire conversation and even crowds out “real” conversation.

In other words: following this best practice is annoying for both you, and also for the other people you’re working with. Doubly so when there is a high frequency of communication.

The solution? You’re smart so you saw where this is going. Is this the point where the magic of emojis comes in?

Yes, it is! Emojis let you acknowledge the receipt of anything but without the clutter, for you or for the other people. You can respond to an email to acknowledge you got something with just a 🚀 and the message will be clear. On platforms like Slack, you can respond to messages with just one of their system emojis and it doesn’t alert the other person (so it doesn’t clutter up his messages) but it is there for him to see when he checks. A big win-win!

My suggestion to you, dear reader, is to become an avid emoji user. Respond to everything little thing with an emoji, with the exception of other acknowledgments or other emojis to avoid a recursive endless death cycle. You may even want to have one chosen favorite emoji that you use as a default acknowledgment. I use 🚀 for that purpose, personally.

But there’s another way to frame all this. A minor fear that’s in the back of the mind of anyone you work with, all the time: they will ask people to do stuff, and it just won’t happen for one reason or another. Maybe you don’t prioritize it, maybe it gets lost, maybe there’s a misunderstanding as to who would do it, or when.

Indeed, making sure things you need done happen is the heart of all management. Things getting lost or not done is, at its heart, why enterprises of great pith and moment turn awry, to quote the Dane. It is the problem of management. This one little problem has given birth to a whole universe of books and tools and processes and annoying behaviors.

So, from your boss’s or client’s point of view, an easy way to make sure he loves working with you is if you give him confidence that anything he asks you will happen. And the very easy first step in doing that which is, acknowledging everything you receive.

A final hypothetical comparison will hopefully drive this home. Imagine you hire an architect to design your dream house. You send him an article, prefacing it with, “I love the houses in this article.” Then you send him a suggestion about how you’d like the bathroom. Then imagine you send him some plans you wrote up with some ideas, and you hear nothing back.

Maybe, hopefully, he’s awesome and doing a great job, and incorporating everything you send him. But you’re not sure if he is. You’re not sure if he’s even seeing it.

Now compare this with an architect who, after receiving each of these sends back one-line messages, “Interesting, I’ll take a look” or “I’ll deep dive into this tonight” or “Hmph, my ideas are similar but different—let me think about it.” Wouldn’t that give you much more confidence in his abilities?

There is an important qualification: this applies to people you’re working with. Your team. I am not implying you ought to respond to every spammer. Not at all. Those you need to judge yourself on what to ignore and what not to, in order to prevent from getting overwhelmed.