Hello! Thank You! Have A Great Day!
I am obsessed with making sure people think I am nice. I mean, I do enjoy practicing niceness, but sometimes at my own expense. It’s a defense mechanism of mine, making sure others around me are happy so that I don’t have to deal with the greatest horror of all: confrontation.
Naturally, it’s crept into my emails. I pepper in exclamation points like they’re going out of style. Yes, I’m guilty of sending emails where every sentence ends in an exclamation point. Who isn’t?
I! Am! Just! Too! Friendly!
What’s wrong with being friendly, you ask? I realized that as a woman, I’ve developed the habit because I don’t always feel like I’ll be taken seriously—or responded to—if I’m not accommodating. I worry about taking up space in someone’s inbox, although I have just as much of a right to be there as anyone else. I worry about being perceived as cold.
But all this worry and accommodation is exhausting. I am tired of softening myself for the sake of others, and it’s time for a change.
So I’m starting with my punctuation.
Emails, Exclamations, & Emotional Energy
If you deal with email in your profession, you know how much time and emotional energy is swept up in responses. Even if it’s only a quick one-line response, multiply that by 50 and you can kiss your afternoon goodbye.
And when you’re exclaiming in all of your responses about how wonderful something is, how grateful you are for someone’s message, or how perfect that meeting time is, you’ll drain that emotional energy right down to zero. Plus, exclamation points, beyond seeming “nice,” can also indicate more than I’m willing (or able) to extend. Each one I type digs me deeper into the message I’m responding to, and lends more weight to my response than I’d like.
It’s not just me—women in general tend to use more exclamation points, most notably in professional situations. Some say it’s a sign of insecurity, I say it’s trying to work in a system designed to work against us.
Exclamation Points & Gender
I receive dozens of emails a day, and there’s often a distinct difference in the tone based on the apparent gender of the sender. As a generalization, women’s emails often contain niceties such as “Hi Emily!” and “how are you?” and typically introduce or ask for something. Men’s emails, on the other hand, contain few to no exclamation points, rarely mention me by name, and often have a more expectant (and perhaps demanding) tone. Hey—you’re in my inbox, buddy.
One of the great lies about womanhood and femininity is that we must be accommodating and make ourselves smaller, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Even in our communication, we must be “nice” to show that we are no threat, to show that we are compromising, to show that we are relatable, to show that we are deferential. But what it’s really done is teach us to communicate in ways that dampen our power and our knowledge, for the sake of someone else’s comfort.
The good thing about this nonsense is that despite these double standards, women have learned to be dynamic. We’ve learned what it takes to command a room, how to work within the boundaries of sexist structures while also working to dismantle them—and we also know deeply how to offer empathy and understanding when it’s appropriate. We’ve learned our own language; like a secret code, we know how to write precisely how we want our content to be read, because we’ve had to fit into other’s boxes for so long.
So that exclamation point is as much an adaptation as it is a compromise.
How My Communication Is Changing
As I’m focusing more closely on how I communicate and present myself in the digital world, I’m also seeing it play out in my daily life. I ask questions I genuinely want to know the answers to, take up more space with my own personal stories and needs, and am setting boundaries for my enthusiasm.
Okay, okay, so I’m not going to ditch every single exclamation point. But, in all external emails, I’ve started to limit myself to one—two maximum if it’s a long email. I ask myself how useful my enthusiasm will be to the message, and edit accordingly. I’m subbing in commas and periods and hitting send before my palms get too sweaty with worry.
In internal emails, I’m as frivolous as ever—I love using punctuation to convey my tone over exciting news, my gratitude, and my enthusiasm with my team because, well, I love my team. And that appreciation is energy that I’m happy to share with them all day, every day.
But it is time for a change: no more carrying weight that is not my own. Period. No more giving more than I can—or want to. Period. No more energy-sucking niceties for the sake of someone else’s comfort. Period.
And no more exclamation points typed out of fear. Period.
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!