“Hi! I hope you’re doing well! Sorry to bug you, but I just wanted to check in on a few things! Thanks so much!”
Have you ever written an email that sounds like this? I know I have. The habit started when I began my professional career and overused the exclamation point in an effort to appear more amiable and personable. In my mind, ending a sentence with a period meant you were upset or not nice.
Luckily, my opinion and my emailing style have evolved over time. I’ve realized that I actually sound more genuine if I don’t constantly use exclamation points. And that it doesn’t sound angry to write “I hope you’re doing well.”
It turns out this issue isn’t rare among women. When I brought the topic up at one of my book club meetings a few years ago, one woman mentioned that her boss told her to use more exclamation points in her emails so as to sound friendlier.
A 2006 study also explores punctuation use by analyzing 200 exclamation marks in online discussion groups for library and information science professionals. The results show that 73 percent of all the exclamation marks were made by females, while only 27 percent were made by males.
The why behind it
Why is this the case? Kassondra Glenn, a licensed psychotherapist and a contributor with Diamond Rehab, shed some light on it.
“Women and female socialized people tend to be raised to believe that it is their role to be accommodating to others,” she said. “The use of exclamation points can be representative of people-pleasing patterns – i.e. calming the situation by conveying to another that they are not angry and/or willing to compromise.”
On top of that, Glenn pointed out that societally, women “are implicitly shown that they will and should be taken less seriously.” Meanwhile, exclamation points are psychologically viewed as markers of excitement or that the message isn’t very serious. Therefore, women may gravitate toward exclamation points as their punctuation of choice.
Finally, women are often taught to “limit the space they take up,” Glenn noted. Therefore, they use exclamation points in emails to soften their requests or preferences.
Beyond punctuation, numerous articles explore how women communicate in writing. A simple Google search of “women writing emails” yields results on how females need to be less apologetic and stop hedging their language to accommodate others. In fact, there’s even a Chrome extension called “Just Not Sorry” that warns people when they use undermining phrases (like “just,” “sorry,” “I’m no expert,” and “I may be wrong”). Of course, the tool can be used by anyone, but its origin story involves women realizing they were diminishing their messages in writing.
How to make a change
How can you make sure your emails are having the most impact? Glenn provided a few self-editing tips for women and female socialized individuals who want to try writing emails “like a man.”
1. Read the message aloud. Glenn suggested asking yourself the following: “When doing so, does the language and/or punctuation sound forced or out of place?” If that’s the case, consider making some changes. This echoes back to my realization of sounding more genuine without using exclamation marks.
2. Observe any physical or emotional response to your language. “If you are writing from a place of anxiety, it may be advisable to step into the discomfort of asserting yourself,” Glenn said.
3. You can use exclamation marks sometimes! (Yes, I just used that one on purpose.) But seriously, Glenn noted that all-or-nothing thinking isn’t the way to go. “It is the overuse of one type of communication that may be coming from an insecure place,” she added.