• Jennifer

The Exclamation Point, Emojis, and I'm Sorry

If you Google "exclamation points women," you'll get several hits - a podcast or two, a video, and several articles. Why all the fuss about one piece of punctuation?

If you Google "who uses more emojis, men or women," you'll also get a pile of results - all of which point to women as the more frequent users. And women use even more when conversing with other women. (Emojis are in texts, emoticons are in email, fyi.)

And if you Google "who says 'I'm sorry' more, men or women," you'll get a boatload of articles all saying the same (and, sadly, expected) thing - women apologize with much greater frequency than men.

If you're a woman, you likely employ all three of these in your written communications, both personal and professional. Why do we all do this?

They all can be construed as "language softeners," tools for making what you've said seem less pushy, less aggressive, more demure - aka more traditionally feminine.

We are all conditioned to expect women's speech to be more soft-focused and more conciliatory - and you're probably even guilty of it when on the receiving end. When was the last time you got a text from a female friend without an emoji or exclamation point? Probably never, but if you did, I bet your first thought was, "Uh oh. Is she mad at me?"

(Unless you're texting with my mom, who uses neither punctuation nor emojis, so guess what? I always wonder if she's mad at me. Hi, Mom, if you're reading this! Hope you're not mad!)

I have a friend-client who initially brought this topic to my attention and we decided to avoid using exclamation points when communicating with each other about work. IT WAS HARD! It was so hard that we often added postscripts or parentheticals that said things like, "I'd usually put an exclamation point here but I'm not," or "Insert smiley face here."

Reading over our emotion-free emails and texts was painful at times. I always wondered if she was upset and it felt so abrupt and unfriendly. "Here is the next version of your website with the edits we discussed," felt borderline rude without an exclamation point to convey my excitement about being one step closer to completion for her.

"I'm sorry" falls under the same umbrella. "I'm sorry but could you do this thing?" "I'm sorry but I can't make that date." "I'm sorry but do you have five minutes to talk?" Why can't we just make the request without apologizing? I'm particularly guilty of the second one - even when the other person is the one with the more challenging schedule.

And don't miss seeing the irony of littering texts with all this extraneous material when texting is designed for the fast and easy exchange of information between people.

Perhaps this topic is particularly sensitive for new women entrepreneurs. We sometimes lack self-confidence in our endeavors and feel compelled to leave only a shallow footprint in case we wind up being mistaken. We don't feel as if we can speak from a position of authority and precision and use qualifiers to minimize our impact (and, by extension, our very presence). Clearly we have to get over this and it runs more deeply than punctuation.

I don't have a solution - but I'm not sure I need one. I am now more mindful of my use of exclamation points and emojis/emoticons - I don't always need to sound like a bouncy bubble-headed 22-year-old in my writing, do I? - and I do make a point of not apologizing indiscriminately.

I believe my words speak for themselves, and if I can deliver them with a smile - in the form of an exclamation point or a smiley face - then what's wrong with that? If someone mistakes my friendly tone for a lack of gravitas or intelligence, that's their problem.

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