Dot your i’s and…cross out your exclamation points?
After clicking “send,” I reviewed my email one more time, line by line. One exclamation point…two… three? I cringed and exited out of the message before I could catch another. As I drafted the email, the exclamation points seemed necessary; without them, my sentences fell flat. I wanted to sound enthusiastic. Friendly, with a can-do attitude! But now, my words screamed with a spastic eagerness that embarrassed me.
I noted this tendency of mine to one of my mentors, who responded, “No more.” She promptly sent me a link to an article titled, “Why Men Don’t Use Exclamation Points (and Women Do).”
“Periods are the resting bitch face of punctuation,” the piece opens. The author, James S. Fell, continues, “No one gives a shit if a man is blunt and uses a simple period to end a sentence. But a woman must use exclamation points to express enthusiasm lest she be thought a bitch and get talked to by a supervisor about her ‘tone.’”
Upon reading this, I understood that my proclivity for exclamation points may stem from sexist double standards. Women are conditioned to appear friendly—we’re supposed to smile at strangers while prancing down the streets in a sun dress!—and that pressure filters into every character we type into a work email. However, even with that in mind, I wasn’t fully convinced that I needed to get rid of them.
Thus began my article hopping—from the Huffington Post to Business Insider—to see what other folks were saying about this. Some writers scold women (specifically) for their peppy punctuation, claiming that it undermines the authority of their voice. Satirists suggest that exclamation points have become necessary for basic politeness – a cultural shift that several critics lament. Others declare that “exclamation points are feminist as f**k.” Angelina Chapin asserts:
“Friendly emails are a sign of progress, not weakness, in our working lives. The many women who already use exclamation marks in business emails know you can both act like a feeling human on Gmail and have professional success.”
So, where do I stand in the midst of this debate?
I like to make other people feel valued and secure when they come in contact with me. That’s who I am. I should not have to intimidate others in order to gain their respect, nor should I have to mimic “traditionally masculine” language to establish my authority. However, I don’t have to overload my emails with exclamation points to show my compassion or agreeability, either. Words have power on their own, without the aid of a “!”
In the end, it’s all about moderation and context. While I sprinkle texts to my friends with festive punctuation like it’s parmesan cheese, I try to be especially mindful of my language in work correspondences. There’s a sweet spot in the middle that I’m working towards—a style and voice of leadership that is uniquely mine.