let's talk about exclamation points
Last month, I attended a salon discussion centered around issues that affect women in business. At the beginning of the evening, the 30 or so women in attendance went around the room to introduce themselves. The introductions were wildly impressive, as the room was filled with founders, executives and highly esteemed creatives, but were for the most part, standard (name, hometown, cool job description) - until we got to the last woman in the room. She followed the basic introduction format at first, but before giving up the floor, she threw us all a curve ball. “I also want to leave you all with a challenge,” she said, “stop using exclamation points in your emails.”
She went on to explain that she’d recently resolved to cut exclamation points out of her emails after realizing that while she always felt the need to include them in her correspondences, she rarely, if ever, received an exclamation point in an email from a man. Within a few days of exclamation-less emails, a male colleague reached out to her to ask why she was being so cold. From her perspective, the double standard was impossible to ignore.
And she’s not the only one. Women in business, across industries and generations, are asking themselves the age old question, How many exclamation points is too many exclamation points?
Though I had never quite put my finger on why, I have always kept track of my exclamation point usage.
When I’m communicating with clients, I find myself hyper aware of the fact that I’m a twenty-something woman of color and consequently trying to draft emails that make me seem mature and professional and relatable and just eager enough to not cross the line into flirty but friendly enough to never ever come across angry. I want my emails to read energetic, but not the peppy cheerleader kind of energy, just an “I’m excited about the work we get to do together and I’m definitely worth more than what you’re paying me” kind of energy. So….how many exclamation points do I need to do that?
I asked the women on our team if they monitor their exclamation point usage (they all do) and what feels appropriate to them, and the answers varied.
“I try to make a rule for myself to not include back to back exclamation points.”
“For emails, I’d limit them to a single exclamation ending in ! or !! but never !!!”
“I avoid using exclamation points all together, I don’t want to come off as childish.”
“I’ve found a rhythm where my emails start and end with an exclamation, but the bulk of the message is a little more formal.”
For me, the magic number is one. One strategically placed exclamation point keeps me from coming off as mean without undermining my professionalism or authenticity. But I should confess that while writing this article, I found myself replacing an exclamation point in an email with a smiley face - which admittedly feels like a step in the wrong direction.
What do you think? What's your number?