Can I use exclamation marks in my work emails?

The short answer is no.

There are exceptions, such as when your colleague announces a promotion in which case you need to reply with “Congratulations!” and not “Congratulations”. But, on the whole, emails read better without them.

The more interesting question is why we want to use them in the first place.

Here the answer is more nuanced.

If you think about it, every email has a dual function. The first function is the Desired Action. It could be the return of a completed form, updating team members on developments, arranging a meeting, making a sale, or any other answer to the question: What do I want to happen as a result of this email?

The second function of work emails is the Desired Relationship. You want to establish or support the appropriate connection between you and the recipient of your email. The formality of your workplace is a relevant factor here and so work connections will differ if you work in an established, conservative corporate, or a disruptive start-up. But, regardless of the level of formality, you probably want to come across as any combination of these words: competent, reliable, professional, friendly. Right?

This is a question of tone.

Tone is the perceived feelings behind our words. If your readers think that you sound enthusiastic/pleasant/upbeat, bored/boring/unconcerned or grumpy/angry/aggressive, they are reading the tone of your email.

This is what drives us to use exclamation marks: we want to come across as positive and friendly.

But – while in short answers, exclamation marks change a phrase from bitter or sarcastic to genuine (Amazing. versus Amazing! for instance) – everywhere else, exclamation marks are simply emphasis. Using them in work emails makes you seem over-enthusiastic, perhaps a bit shouty.

Rather than falling prey to generic over-enthusiasm, consider you words more carefully.

Here are four pointers to help you carry your tone with more sophistication:

  1. Use exclamation marks when you congratulate others, especially if your email is a short reply:

Well done! not Well done.

Brilliant! not Brilliant.

  1. Include an icebreaker after your greeting:

Hi Siphokazi,

I trust that your holiday was excellent – welcome back!

Dear Ms La Grange,

I hope you’re well.

Hi team,

Thank you for the excellent meeting last week.

Dear Jeffrey,

Thank you for your enquiry.

  1. Be positive:

Look at the difference between these two sentences:

1. The funds will not be available until February.

2. The funds will be available in February.

Is there a difference in meaning? No.

Is there a difference in tone? Actually, yes. Sentence A reads as a limitation. Sentence B reads as an opportunity.

Overusing words such as I don’t have time, waste, fail, impossible, etc., create a negative impression on your reader.

Enclosing your messages in positive phrases – opportunity, it’s a pleasure, together, etc. – goes a long way in maintaining and improving your relationships.

  1. Avoid generic emphasis:

If you get into the habit of using words well it will become easier to resist peppering everything you communicate with the excess of emphasis.

Good luck.

Oops… I mean, Good luck!


By Nicola Jurgens (Facilitator, Confident Communicator®)

Inspiring Confidence

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

Maya Angelou got it spot on. The messages we send out into the world through the interactions of our lives are comprised 55% of body language, 38% of our tone of voice, and only 7% of the words that we use. Think about that for a moment: how we are perceived by others is more affective than what we actually say.

And yet, when we think about being a great communicator, we often forget about the people listening to us and focus entirely on ourselves. “I want to feel more confident,” so many of us say. And of course that’s a priority. Feeling at home in our bodies, trusting our voices to carry our message clearly, speaking our mind with ease and accuracy, are essential components of confident communication.

But we mustn’t forget the other side of confidence: to be great at your job and to have beautiful relationships, you need to instil confidence in others. Your listeners must feel that you are trustworthy, competent and clear. They need to relax in your presence and when you speak to be able to receive your message. They should feel confident in you and in your abilities. That is to say, effective communication is largely about how you make other people feel, just as Maya said.

So, although it might seem counter-intuitive, great communication is often less about you than you think. In fact, great communication is giving the gift of preparation, clarity, goodwill and presence to the recipients of your message in such a way that they are sure about the high calibre of your abilities, and that they can trust you with their undivided attention.

People will indeed remember how you made them feel. Let that memory be one that instils their confidence in you.

By Nicola Jurgens (Facilitator, Confident Communicator®)

Confident Communicator nominated for the Cape Talk Small Business Awards 2017

Cape Talk Small Business Awards 2017 radio interview on the John Maytham show

Producing Perception through Communication

We have no control over others’ perceptions of us. Or do we?

Ultimately, we cannot control others’ perceptions but we can certainly influence them.

Whether we are communicating through presentations or with customers over the telephone or even with our colleagues and clients in our day-to-day interactions, no one wants to be perceived negatively. Negative perceptions affect career paths and very often, because of the lack of confidence they instil in clients or customers, they affect a company’s profits.

Often these skewed perceptions are simply a result of ambiguous or inadvertent communication.

Communication is frequently taken for granted. Usually, we only focus on what to say rather than on how to say it. Naturally, what we say is important, however, non-verbal communication has an enormous impact. Our tone of voice, the pace at which we speak, our body language and vocal projection all contribute to our overriding message.

When we communicate under pressure (e.g. in a presentation or dealing with an irate customer over the telephone), our manner of communication changes. There is a multitude of things that can go wrong – we may speed up our pace of speech or fidget when we get nervous, creating the wrong perception entirely and not representing ourselves as confident, capable people with value and expertise to offer.

Essentially, the key is to develop the ability to use our voices and body language to support our intended messages, so that we have a positive and persuasive influence on the perceptions of others. The best way to develop these skills is through training that is based on practical, experiential learning, however, there are some important tips can start you on you on your journey to producing perceptions that are positive.

7 tips for producing positive perceptions:

  1. Structure your thoughts
  2. Listen
  3. Breathe
  4. Stand tall
  5. Pause
  6. Start only when you are ready to start
  7. Project your voice

By Michelle Macdonald (Managing Director, Confident Communicator®)