Exclamation point fever: Why we communicate like we’re the head cheerleader of the office!
How many exclamation points are too many exclamation points?!?! As a woman, I will say that I am guilty of exclamation point abuse. I use exclamation points as a flotation device. A little security, padding between my words and their potential impact on the recipient of my meticulously crafted correspondence. If the words might cause morale to sink, the flamingo floaty of “!!!” will help bring it above water. Throw in a smiley, and well… we’re loungin in that floaty with an umbrella drink. Smooth sailin. Don’t you love a good pool day?
Yes, normally I don’t preface my work with a proclamation that “I am a woman!” I only mention the fact because a study analyzing 200 exclamations used in a professional discussion group found that women used 73% of the exclamation marks. 73%!! Yeah. That’s a huge majority of exclamation points that were made by women. Why do we, as women, feel the need to communicate like we’re leading the cheer squad at the homecoming game? Why?? 🙂
Nature vs. Nurture!
Some say that women are more likely than men to speak like this naturally. Others say women are conditioned by society to communicate in ways that are accommodating to the recipient’s feelings, spending energy to anticipate the potential emotional response of their words. Men are less likely to be so accommodating. They’ve got bigger fish to fry. After all, over 90% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are men.
Look, I’m no social scientist, so don’t count on me for a dissertation on the nature vs. nurture of the exclamation mark. What I will point out is that the percentage of women vs. male CEOs and the percentage of women vs. male exclamation point users both have an eerily similar crater-sized gap (with the CEO gap being… well, completely catastrophic). Is there a correlation here? I don’t know!! After all, I’m just a woman. 😉
Ok, but seriously, (another qualification made by my two x chromosomes to tell all you men that I’m not 100% serious because I might sound mean and then you wouldn’t like me and then I’ll end up alone forever) communication has changed drastically during the past year, especially at work. Gone are the days of in-person interactions–those fun coffee trips you take with your coworkers for your 3PM bonding sesh. Many employees are onboarding and assimilating into teams that they’ve never met. How does your new coworker know to fall in love with your awesome personality if they can’t see you walking into the office, smiling and seemingly lit by sunshine? Well, exclamation points and smileys are the text equivalent to your morning grand entrance.
Also, it is important to note that I’ve met plenty of men who use exclamation points and smiley faces like they used to use Axe body spray circa 7th grade. They pour it on! And unlike the toxic smell of Axe, I do like it. It makes me feel comfortable and that they like me (they really, really like me!). While women are statistically more likely to communicate this way, men are not immune to the siren song of the potent exclamation point.
Technology Alert: Just Not Sorry
An argument against the overuse of exclamation points is that using them may cause you to be taken less seriously professionally. While this point is rooted in the overuse of exclamation points being categorized as a “woman thing” (remember that fun statistic about the percentage of male CEOs a few paragraphs above), punctuation choice and qualifications before strong statements also stem from the same area of insecurities and beliefs: that your words need padding to soften the impact.
The overuse of these extra layers of padding was seen as such a problem, that a Gmail plugin, Just Not Sorry, was created to “build awareness of how we qualify our message and diminish our voice.” Inspired by the writings of Tara Mohr and others, this Chrome extension for Gmail and Inbox will underline phrases and words that qualify and undermine your message–also, telling you how this message will be received with just the hover of a mouse. Basically, like Grammerly, but for those of us trying to break the habit of softening our words.
I bet it’s an incredibly helpful tool… but I have yet to download, for fear of all the red lines.
Next Time: Tune into the Motivation Behind Your Punctuation!
It’s tough to communicate in one dimension. We’ve all been struggling to adjust to a new world landscape and a new work landscape. So, here’s the deal. Next time you’re drafting an email or even a Slack message, tune into the motivation behind your punctuation. Are you expressing genuine emotion or are you using it as the flamingo pool floaty of text? Pause, reflect, then make a choice. There’s no right or wrong here!! Express yourself 🙂
Allie Demopoulos is a Content Copywriter at Surprise.com. A writer and producer, she believes that humor is the greatest tool and that the best of anything–comedy, music, stories–are experienced in basements. When she’s not creating, you can find her in the electric streets of Manhattan, a place she feels lucky to call home.