I read recently that emoticons tend to be used more by women than men. See, this bugs me, as I happen to enjoy a good emoticon every now and then. Not tons. I don't spray them around like exclamation points at a teen shopping adventure. Just a few to be friendly.
So imagine my sense of relief upon finding that emoticons can help during online negotiation processes. That's right. The smiley may yield an actual beneficial business result. Take that, ya misogynistic emoji haters.
However, since my online source for this tidbit seemed less than reliable, I went digging. Apparently, the root research that spawned this revelation had more to do with general communication than emoticons in specific. In particular, the research focused on mimicry during negotiation, both in person and via text. That's the emoticon tie-in: If the person on the other end uses emoticons, you'll do better by using emoticons in a similar fashion.
You can read the paper for yourself: "Early words that work: When and how virtual linguistic mimicry facilitates negotiation outcomes." The idea boils down to the fact that if you copy the mannerisms of the other person in the first ten minutes of a negotiation, they'll tend to like you more and you'll end up with a better negotiation outcome than you would have otherwise, including if you started mimicking in the last ten minutes. The researchers state, "Our results suggest that – even when cloaked behind the anonymity of a computer screen – strategically mimicking a counterpart's language early in a negotiation can be a powerful way to facilitate the negotiation process."
Note that the point is not to be a mirror or to parrot. If you blatantly copy people, you're just going to annoy them. This is about subtly relating to people and "speaking their language," even if that means body language. It's a valuable skill to be aware of if you're a heavy email communicator and another good reason to listen to others before opening your mouth -- or setting fingers to keyboard. ;-)