A short article of Emily Torres of BBC London caught my attention. And yes, the lady is so very right.
Great to hear from you!
As former Managing Editor of several law magazines, published in Berlin, Amsterdam, and New York, my job has been also editing a lot of articles. Every time, I met an exclamation mark, I felt an alarming signal.
Yes, even until today, I’m well-known for my cheerfulness. Even on my worst days, I put on a happy face to communicate with people outside my immediate friends and colleagues. In my emails, this behavior manifests itself as exclamation marks. And being honest, I experience the same feelings as Emily Torres.
Honestly, allow me to quote Emily: preoccupied with appearing nice, I used to catch myself using exclamations at the end of every other sentence. And I’m not ashamed to admit it because, chances are, you’ve sent those emails too.
And now, let’s stick together: Take a look at the last few messages you sent. If you’re like me/us, you’ll see exclamations and other niceties peppered throughout: “Looking forward to seeing the end result!” and “I’m excited to hear from you!” and “I’m happy to help out!”
But are you?
I like the example of Emily Torres at this point: former US presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s use of an excitable exclamation mark in his logo during his 2016 campagin drew some mocking from the media.
Whether you send off a few – or a few dozen – emails a day, you’re making these micro-decisions about how to accommodate your recipient when you address, punctuate, and clarify your ideas in real time. And this is where decades of conditioning creep in, and that anxiety-driven need to be liked emerges.
Especially for women, who use exclamation marks more often than men do. In a 2006 study, researchers analysed 200 exclamations used in professional discussion groups, and found that females used 73% of the exclamation marks. The study concluded that women use these marks more often than men do in order to convey friendliness in their professional interactions.
How is your opinion? The scourge of the exclamation mark is this: I use it excessively because of the pressure I feel to manage the recipient’s feelings. My default tone is enthusiastic, even when the situation doesn’t call for it, says Emily Torres. How about you?
Exclamation marks can sometimes be jarring or convey strong emotion. The European Parliament used them to protest changes to Hungary’s constitution in 2013. Have you seen another example during last days or weeks?
I strongly agree with emily in saying, that women tend to overemphasize our kindness at work, and not without good reason. According to McKinsey’s 2018 Women in the Workplace report, we are still less likely to be hired in or promoted to senior positions, and there’s pressure to provide more evidence of our competence than our male colleagues. And, unsurprising to many women, we’re more likely to have our judgement questioned in our area of expertise.
Allow me to ask: is this why I overcompensate with enthusiasm?
This goes beyond my emails, too. In mixed company - maybe you too my dear reader... . I’m not always the loudest voice in the room and I used to be hesitant to interject. I used to fear speaking up and standing up for my ideas and expertise in an effort to let others take the credit they demanded. That meant my contributions went unshared in the name of politeness.
Well, next time you’re planing to use exclamation marks think about, that we are often found in warning signs. Using them in your writing to convey enthusiasm too often could warn others to not take you seriously.
When I started paring back my punctuation, I noticed how that same inauthentic enthusiasm was showing up in my day-to-day. I discovered that the time I spend adjusting my tone takes a toll on my energy.
Managing other people’s feelings is exhausting. And what’s worse, it’s unnecessary.
Because an exclamation mark, like kindness, is a valuable resource. And I will use it properly. Full stop. And now let’s count, how many exclamation marks I used in this column! Thank you!!! Period.
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