I’m hoping you can address the issue of using !’s in emails at work. As we all know, tone is hard to convey properly via email. However, whenever I am inclined to use an ! to convey a positive tone, I get the sense that it actually reads as childish or immature. I also never seem to notice men using !’s in emails, either…. I’d love to hear yours and others thoughts on this!
Outstanding question, and I can’t wait to hear what readers say. A lot has been written about overuse of exclamations in emails — with some people even suggesting that one exclamation mark per email is a good rule to follow. There’s even an app to help you check the tone of your email! My best general advice is that abbreviations, multiple punctuation marks (!!!), and overly casual phrases (“amazeballs!”) have no place in professional emails. Beyond that, I think a lot of this depends on why you want to use a positive tone. For example:
- If you’re telling a subordinate he or she did a good job: They don’t care if you use exclamation marks; they’re just happy to get the praise. I think something like, “Outstanding!” is professional and encouraging without seeming juvenile.
- If you’re trying to sugarcoat a bad situation for a superior: Exclamation marks aren’t going to help you here — in fact, they’ll probably hurt you. You don’t want to be overly grave (“I am so sorry this happened!!!”), or overly breezy (“…but on the plus side no one lost a limb!!!”)… it’s a tough tone to strike in email. Which, honestly, is why I recommend picking up the phone or dropping by your boss’s office. Not only do you not have to worry about tone, but you can better gauge your boss’s reaction, and — bonus! — there’s no paper trail that might get forwarded, misconstrued, filed away, etc.
I guess that’s my best tip — if you’re worried about the tone being misunderstood, it’s best to have the conversation orally
verbally. Otherwise, trust yourself and the English language — word choice goes a long way towards, you know, communicating. For example, writing “Great news, team: we are done with the doc review.” doesn’t need any exclamation marks to get the point across.
Readers, what are your best tips on how to convey tone in email without seeming childish, juvenile, or girlish? Have you received any emails where you really noticed/minded the tone?