Why women use more exclamation points (and get punished for it), apologise more, and are still getting interrupted at work.
1. Exclamation points
Data from the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication showed that women do in fact use more exclamation points than men, tend to apologise more, and are more likely to be interrupted at work. But should we be curbing the practice, or encouraging men to get onboard? (＼(^o^)／)
Women are more likely to add exclamations, add sprinklings of emojis, or extra letters (eg. hiiiiiiii) to their workplace communications than men. Part of the reason is that men and women use very different communication styles: while men tend to use conversation to display knowledge, women use it to build and maintain relationships.
The tendency for women to apologise more frequently than men – at work and in daily life – is bound up in complex and competing issues. While women are more likely to apologise, they are also more likely to report offenses. Add to that cultural structures that have historically devalued women’s opinions and it’s clear that the practice does have an impact on workplace relations. Research published by Jill Filipovic in her book The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness, states that women feel more pressure than men to make others happy, and the suggestion has been made by others that, for women, apologies often signify an expression of sympathy and empathy, rather than an admission of guilt.
But the jury is still out about the right way to respond. While there’s been a rise in calls for women to stop (such as here and here ), studies show that they are key to helping women subtly navigate the minefields of the modern workplace. For example a Harvard Business Review study found that:
“Men are seen as confident if they are seen as competent, but women are seen as confident only if they come across as both competent and warm. Women must be seen as warm in order to capitalize on their competence and be seen as confident and influential at work; competent men are seen as confident and influential whether they are warm or not.”
Journalist and author Jessica Valenti suggests telling individual women to stop trying to be “friendly and accessible” in leadership positions is counterproductive, and that, if anything, more men should adopt similar practices. “I’m not into the whole genre of workplace advice that tells women to stop saying sorry or stop using exclamation points, etc,” she says. “I think these are individual solutions for what is a systemic problem. There’s also the issue of — what happens when women alter their behavior and are punished for it?”
However if you do want to better monitor your communications at work, this Chrome Extension for gmail and Inbox warns you when you use words or phrases that undermine your message. When the word “sorry” appears, a text pop-up reads: “using ‘sorry’ frequently undermines your gravitas and makes you appear unfit for leadership.”
You may have read about the resignation of Uber board member David Bonderman, who was compelled to do so after interrupting entrepreneur Arianna Huffington at a staff meeting about sexual discrimination and workplace culture.
Or, the recent story about Australian Labor party senator Penny Wong’s response to being repeatedly interrupted while speaking on the floor of the senate.
Since the 1970s, studies have shown what many female leaders have anecdotally reported; that it’s much more difficult for a women to finish her point uninterrupted than a man. A 2014 study found that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33 per cent more often than when they were talking with men.
A recent article published by the Atlantic reports that some businesses are actively taking steps to solve a problem “that is too often left to female employees.” Rather than leave it to individuals to parry interruptions, some employers are taking the lead, say Arin Reeves. She runs US-based company, Nextions, which works with Fortune 500 companies, big law firms, and other clients to attract and retain diverse talent.
She institutes practices with her clients that force meeting attendees to use a ‘talking stick’ that travels around the table to enable comments, or a whiteboard notice that describes not interrupting as a company value. While many find this silly to begin with, she says, over time the rules create a new normal.
“Humans are much better at changing their behavior when we see environmental cues as opposed to being told what to do,” says Reeves.
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