Last week, I did an experiment: I decided to stop using exclamation points and emoji. In an office that’s completely reliant on Slack, this was difficult.
I often felt anxious and rude. When my boss asked me to proof an article, I’d feel guilty for responding “ok” instead of “absolutely!” When my editor sent revisions, I’d worry that responding “thanks” (sans ) effectively translated to “Wow, you destroyed my work.” And when my friend texted me asking if I wanted to grab dinner, my reply—”sure”—prompted her to text back, “everything okay?”
Yet as I altered my communication style, I noticed that my colleagues did too—a phenomenon that linguists call “registering.”
“People instinctively register and change their styles depending upon who they’re communicating with and how that person speaks,” says Naomi S. Baron, a linguistics professor at American University. Conversing without punctuation to cushion our points seemed to level the tone of my discourse with colleagues, if only in my mind. My messages weren’t pandering to my teammates’ emotions, nor were theirs to mine. And so while the conversational style felt stark and dismissive to me at first, it soon felt honest and easy.
Strange as it may sound, dropping the s from my workplace communication wasn’t just a relief—it was empowering.
From childhood, women are conditioned to smile and nod to ensure that others feel comfortable and confident. This dynamic translates in digital communication through emoji and exclamation points, as this hilarious video drives home. Enthusiastic punctuation marks and pictures are “the textual versions of body language,” says Jenny Davis, a social psychologist, professor at the Australian National University, and editor of the blog Cyborgology.
As Quartz has previously reported, women’s speech styles traditionally tend to be about “about making space for others’ expressions,” says Davis. And so “the…