Words of Wisdom

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A way with words.

I recently attended a women lawyers’ lunch group; we meet periodically to chat and share tips and tricks of the trade. After a lengthy conversation about politics, we eventually came around to one of my all-time favorite topics: the use of exclamation points in professional communications. I was forced to trot out a few stories of being castigated by male recipients of emails from me containing such ‘offensive’ marks. This led to a conversation about challenges many women share with regard to writing and communication, which I thought you’d find helpful (if not entertaining).

  1. The Exclamation Point!
    IMO, the exclamation point is an oft-overlooked, underutilized and very useful punctuation mark. Women often shy away from exclamation points in emails, perhaps because of a fear that such use will render the communication less serious. The exclamation point can emphasize key points, including those that communicate big wins, congratulations, and the like. Although there is the danger of the communication being taken less seriously, I believe this is counterbalanced by injecting a certain personality into one’s writing. We all agreed that the better the writer knows the recipient, and vice versa, the more appropriate it may be to use the “!”.

  2. Emojis (more specifically, the smiley face)
    I firmly believe that the smiley face emoticon has its place in professional emails. For example, after an ironic or meant to be humorous comment. The downside, one colleague pointed out, is when the computer program doesn’t support the emoji, and it turns into a “J”. Loses the effect. Oh well, it’s a risk we must take.

  3. Gab
    Women like to talk—and it often shows in our writing. During our conversation, we all agreed that women tend to use more words than are necessary—and perhaps even go off on tangents that are irrelevant to the topic on hand. It’s best to keep to the point. Less is more.

  4. Niceties
    Notwithstanding the “less is more” mantra, women can also be too direct. I often find myself writing up a legal email, then rereading it and recognizing that I dove right into the substance while omitting any niceties. I will often go back and add in a “Hello! How are you?” to soften what may otherwise be a hard and direct note.

  5. Thanks for what?
    Maybe because we were all raised to be polite and have manners, we each noted that we often close our emails by saying thanks—even when there is really nothing to be thankful for. In fact, in many cases, the recipient should be thanking us! How about, “you’re welcome?” J

As always, thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Please share your comments here.

Until next time,