Something curious happens every time you open an email.
Whatever enthusiasm the sender meant to convey is immediately taken down a notch — so that, if it’s an email from your boss communicating her approval on a project, it might sound to you more like a “meh.”
That’s according to Jocelyn K. Glei, author of the new book “Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done.” Glei argues that there’s one sure way to fight this phenomenon: Sound more excited when you write an email. Specifically, don’t be afraid to use exclamation points (really!) in professional email exchanges.
In “Unsubscribe,” Glei mentions the “negativity bias,” described by psychologist Daniel Goleman in a 2013 LinkedIn post:
“[T]here is an actual negativity bias in email where senders think that a message was positive, but that’s because they assume all the other cues were clearly received. It’s an unconscious assumption.
“Receivers think that positive email was more neutral. When the sender thinks it’s neutral, receivers tend to think it’s more negative. In other words, there is a general negativity skew to email.”
Those cues Goleman is referring to include the person’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and physical gestures, Glei writes. Exclamation points serve to supplant those cues, showing that you don’t intend to sound harsh or stern.
In an interview with Business Insider, Glei said, “exclamation points don’t actually seem overly upbeat. They actually just make you seem normally enthusiastic. Because by the time the person receives the message, it’s almost downgraded a little bit.”
Interestingly, recent research also found that people who use a period to end a sentence in a text message are perceived as less sincere than those who don’t use a period. While the study didn’t look at exclamation points specifically, the general takeaway here seems to be that punctuation makes a big difference in how you come off.
Using an exclamation point after every single sentence might indeed look unprofessional. It’s all about moderation. Think wearing one splash of colour to a job interview — not five.
As Glei writes in “Unsubscribe”:
“I’ve had to cajole, convince, and critique hundreds of people who worked for me or way above me, and I couldn’t have done it successfully without embedding a lot of supportive social cues into my email messages.”
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