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A couple of other women joined me in going exclamation-free and learned quickly what employees expect of women bosses.
Feedback was immediate for one, a communications executive at a large San Francisco tech company. “Good job. You managed that well,” she wrote to one staffer who had deftly handled a tricky matter. The woman’s instant reply: “Are you mad at me?”
.. Perhaps her male colleagues wondered, but only women admitted to feeling discomfited by her tone, a reaction that echoes the work of Georgetown University linguist Deborah Tannen. Ms. Tannen has found that women (and men) expect emphasis and enthusiasm from other women, frequently in the form of exclamations or all-caps type.
.. Going without felt great, even freeing, at times. I stopped short of boss email—immediate, terse replies lacking context or punctuation, usually sent to underlings—but it was nice to be just another manager, making sure work gets done.
Maybe it even made me a better manager. I ended emails with questions for recipients to make clear I was interested in them, and I cheated with exclamations in disguise (“What would we do without you?”).
For the new staffer on my team, sending kudos without exclamation points prompted me to walk to her desk and praise her work—hardly revolutionary, but effective. Other times, I ditched email for that classic-but-ignored piece of office technology, the telephone.
Still, I was nagged by the sense that my tone was off-putting, despite my workarounds. That came into sharp relief at midmonth when our babysitter nearly quit, thinking she was about to be fired.