The Definitive Rule for Using Exclamation Points in Work E-mails

We can all tell from the name of this blog that I love a good exclamation point. I mean, they’re fun. They evoke a sense of, like, “Yeah! Life is good!”

Or at the very least, a sense of “I’m perky and approachable and I don’t loathe you.”

Exclamation points say that you’re breezy for you, so you don’t have to say it yourself – because we all know from Friends that explicitly stating you’re breezy totally negates the breezy. So really, exclamation points are an essential communication tool, maintaining the awareness of all our collective breeziness and soothing the egos of probably a million-ish neurotic people per minute.

But what happens when exclamation points become a source of contention, jealousy, and betrayal?

I’m writing, specifically, of exclamation points as employed (no pun intended) in work e-mails.

IMG_20140301_093817

Desktop background courtesy of Tiny Buddha. Exclamation points courtesy of an outlandish young professional with access to wine and a smartphone.

To give you an idea of where I’m headed with this, here’s a conversation that recently took place between my work-wife Jenny and I:

  • Nic (pointing at an e-mail she had open on her computer): What is THIS?
  • Jenny: What?
  • Nic: He wrote “Thanks!” at the end. “THANKS!”
  • Jenny: And…
  • Nic: To me, he always writes “Thanks.” WITH A PERIOD. He hates me, doesn’t he? I knew it. Is it because I never returned his three-hole puncher to him that one time? Tell me everything you know.

Jenny, unwilling to sing like a canary, was just like, “Don’t be silly! He gives me periods all the time. This e-mail was an anomaly.”

Her response was a nice attempt at assuaging my pain, but the damage was done.

Now, I totally get that some people just don’t do exclamation points. Most of these people are men (myself notwithstanding). For whatever reason, women have no problem feigning excitement – in e-mails, texts, the bedroom, etc. – but guys tend to be more direct and stoic in their communication styles. (Do you love how I’m setting progress back fifty years right now by totally generalizing male-female social patterns? You do, don’t you?)

With the above in mind, I can totally get down with a dude who uses periods (or even semicolons)… but the guy in the e-mail to Jenny was different. While I had previously put him in the category of “straightforward man who never uses exclamation points,” seeing his e-mail to Jenny destroyed that identity altogether and indicated that he DOES indeed use exclamation points — but that he’s highly selective about it. He’s the pretentious NYU of exclamation points. (Note: I’m allowed to make this joke because I’m alumni.)

I never thought of myself as someone whose emotions could be dictated by punctuation, but apparently I’m hypersensitive and have too much mental time on my hands.

Or is this just the mark (no pun intended again! Okay, maybe a little this time) of the twenty-first century? Assumptions abound and communication suffers because no one wants to actually talk to anyone out loud anymore?

At the end of the day (because I don’t really feel like trying to explore that last question) I think it all just comes down to consistency. I clearly like to keep people in boxes, so here’s what I have to say to all working professionals: If you’re going to be a period person, then please, for the love of Mariah Carey, stay in your box! And exclamation point people, try to do the same.

Let’s all do our part to prevent emotional meltdowns in the workplace.

P.S. For the record, I will continue to always take the exclamation point route myself. Mostly because my biggest fear is being interpreted as a disgruntled misanthrope by those around me. Plus it leaves open the option to occasionally use them in a passive-aggressive manner when someone says “Do this” and I say “Sure thing!” when what I really mean is, “If you were attacked by a large, aggressive bear with poop on its paws right now, I might be okay with that.”

P.P.S. It just occurred to me that maybe the aggressive-bear-with-poop-claws exclamation point is actually exactly what Jenny received in the e-mail in question, which would mean that that guy is in fact not selective in an NYU kind of way, but more so selective in an angry-evil-bear-poop-whisperer kind of way.

P.P.P.S. In light of that last postscript, I’ve just realized that my entire argument in this piece is ludicrous and baseless and unfounded — pretty much everything but “definitive.”

P.P.P.P.S. WHY CAN’T I EVER MAKE AN IRREFUTABLE POINT? I guess this is why we should never try to keep people in boxes. Run free, everyone. Follow your heart. Use whatever punctuation you desire. Just be breezy about it.

 

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Comments

  1. hahahahaha! I use more !!!! than I should, but that’s also how I talk, lol. I speak with lots of exclamations in my voice!
    And yes, I’ve also examined a work email to pieces due to a person stepping outside their box and making me wonder why they stepped out! 🙂

  2. I use exclams (let’s talk about unnecessary abrevs next, shall we) in email “thank yous” solely to convey a sense that, in my terse reply, I am not, in fact, being snotty or sarcastic, which I assume everyone perceives as my go-to attitude. “Thanks (sincerely)!” as opposed to “Thanks (asshole).” My exclams are decidedly non-poop-claw, so we’re no further ahead in figuring this out. Instead, let’s all just stop trying so hard to get along. We’re doomed.

  3. I think this is hands down my favorite post ever. Replacing the Tide post. Or at least tying it.

  4. I try to not use exclams/e-points in work emails because I want people to fear me. if i look like i’m too excited about something, i will not be respected nor taken seriously. this is why everyone (except you obviously) always thinks i hate them at first (but you probably thought that at one point). i like to keep it that way.

    i have to say, though, i thought this was going to be about exclams next to urgent/priority emails that are not in fact urgent or a priority. that actually bothers me more than excessive use of exclams in emails!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • You make such a good point (PUN. AGAIN.) about that whole being taken seriously thing – didn’t even think of that! And OMG, I completely agree RE: the messages that are marked “urgent.” That is a WHOLE other Oprah!

  5. Nic! You made the irrefutable point!
    “I’m perky and approachable and I don’t loathe you.”
    That sentence defines what exclamation points mean in written communication today!

    Sometimes I have to go back and add an exclamation point so that the recipient doesn’t think I’m mad. More often though, I have to go back and edit out exclamation points because I over exclaim!

    I’m working on not using them at all in work emails because I want them all to know that I hate my job.

    • “I’m working on not using them at all in work emails because I want them all to know that I hate my job.” LMAO! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t strategically remove certain exclamation points (while at my last job, of course, not my current…. YOU HEAR ME BIG BROTHER???) for the SAME exact reason, haha.

      And thank you for validating me and my need to be able to make at least one irrefutable point!! xoxo

  6. bridget says:

    wait – i just wrote an email to someone in nashville and i totally used an exclam!!!! what does this all mean???

  7. When your work-wife said, “He gives me periods all the time,” you did not take the opportunity to correct her, enlighten her as to where periods come from? Because that’s exactly where I’d have gone.
    But since you’ve shoved us all back to the 1950’s with our male/female roles – did you consider that perhaps you get The Period from this guy because you’re a guy and, therefore, a serious person whereas WorkWife Jenny gets The Exclamation because she’s a gal and is dumb and can only understand simple words and big punctuations? In essence, his exclamation is sexist? Or, flipping that on the side and bringing things back into the modern moment – he’s taken a whole lot of communication classes and know that women respond well to exclamations and multiple question marks whereas men like finality and brevity. Period. OR he knows that she has a communication style that is exuberant and exclamative and he does not know this about you so has put YOU in the period box (which could be a gross innuendo, if you want to go there)
    At any rate, I LOVE THIS POST! It makes me giggle.
    Also, I am adopting the Maggie O’C method of workplace exclamation points.

    • My mind is blown by your analysis. THERE ARE SO MANY WAYS TO INTERPRET THESE THINGS! Also… “the period box”… I nearly died. DIED. Hahahaha.

      • Well, you know, I am very clever and stuff…so my mind can find innuendo or gross things in pretty much any set of words. It’s almost like I’m a 12-year-old.

  8. The fact that you give so much weight to punctuation literally proves to me that we’re twins. Also, I love that, like me, you’re so fragile that an exclamation point can send you literally into a spiral of epic proportions.

    • It’s truly uncanny. Though I will say, this post proves that #WritingIsHealing, because many of my coworkers have stepped forth and confessed to their OWN struggles with interpreting email punctuation! I’m opening the heart space. I’m Oprah.

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