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The other week we discussed the power of body language. But another kind of language that can be just as powerful is the kind we convey virtually: emails.Women tend to put more emotion and consideration into their emails, which often translates into more punctuation. Is punctuation actually undermining your abilities?
Sometimes we get tired, or overly casual, or just plain excited, and we get a little crazy with our work emails. We fall into a pattern where in order to convey passion or receive approval we use exclamation points A LOT. You’d think we were gaining points in a game for how many exclamation points we are using.
Or perhaps you may even slip into smiley face territory or, worst of the worst, emoticons. And not to beat up on my sex, but I notice that women tend to toss around the fun punctuation more than men (myself included!!!!***###). Men get to the point. They use big, fat periods. And then they go out and kill a bear and eat it. But should we try to be more like men in their writing style, which can often come off as brash?
Jorie Scholnik (watch her Office Hours here), an assistant professor within Student Development Instruction at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., and business etiquette expert, told Levo that with email, the main purpose is to get to the point and to get to it quickly—and men tend to do that more 🙁
Perhaps the problem here is not knowing whether the conversation really needs a phone call or not, Scholnik says. Sometimes we would love to do everything over email because most of us stopped putting pen to paper only a few years after we learned to use email. (There was a time when I had great handwriting; now I get texting cramps.) But sometimes a phone call or Skype chat is really the only way to go.
Scholnik said she has seen smiley faces used by both sexes, but she tends to see it more with women.
“Email being sent through the workplace needs to be more formal,” she said. Punctuation can not only undermine you in email, but it can convey your intentions incorrectly. You may think putting a bunch of question marks shows interest, but it could easily be interpreted as impatience, she says. And those friendly exclamation points can quickly be translated as anger or shouting!!!!!!
According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, if you send email replies to your work colleagues regularly, your chances are no better than 50 per cent of it being interpreted correctly, even when the writer believes he or she has correctly ascertained the tone of the emails. For example, sarcasm is extremely hard to convey over email. Chandler Bing would not have been funny if you had only been reading his lines.
Scholnik says it is also important for both genders to remember you may be emailing people of a different generation. You cannot use emoticons or LOLs when you are emailing a baby boomer. (Trust me, it took me hours to explain “TTYL” to my father—a doctor and Princeton graduate. And don’t even get me started on the day that was lost to “YOLO!”)
Julie Spira, “netiquette” expert and author of The Rules of Netiquette: How to Mind Your Digital Manners, told Levo that “using LOL might be appropriate with your best friend who knows that it stands for ‘Laugh out Loud,’ however your boss might not take you seriously. I urge women to limit their use of punctuation marks to personal emails. If you get a new job or get engaged, an exclamation mark or two is appropriate, providing it’s sent to your inner circle.”
Nicole Emerick, founder of Ms. Career Girl Media, told us that young women should think about these three things before going punctuation crazy in an email:
Why do you think you need this extra punctuation?
Emerick says that before sending emails, young professional women should get in the habit of asking themselves WHY they are using emoticons, exclamation points, and “haha’s” in emails. Are you intimidated by the recipient? Are you unsure of the answer to their question? Are you trying to over-compensate for something? Are you trying to make them like you?
Tweet, Tweet: You want the email to be concise
Think about work email the way you’d think of Tweeting, says Emerick: Imagine you are limited to 140 characters and must boil it down to ONLY what’s important. When thinking like this, emoticons, “haha’s” and !!!!!’s often add more confusion—and characters—to the message.
Are you trying to hide behind punctuation?
Emerick says, “I love a good 🙂 as much as the next girl, and I do believe there are times where they can add personality. What I am NOT a fan of is using them as a bandaid or distraction from a serious email that may not be easy to write.” Removing the smiley faces and “LOLs” from your emails may feel scary or too direct at first, but it’s important to get comfortable with being direct sooner, rather than later, in your career.