Stop Abusing the Red Exclamation Point – A PSA


To the Person Abusing the Red “Important!” Exclamation Mark on Outlook Emails:

When writing the tedious correspondence commonly known as the Work Email, there comes a time when we all may think to ourselves, ‘How can I make this email different from the other emails?’ Indeed, we are most of us swimming in seven seas of electronic communication day after day. It’s a natural urge to want one to stand out. We want our email to be read and answered, for the issue to be dealt with quickly and efficiently. We all want this. I promise.

But you, you take the extra step. When you’re writing to a colleague, you think, ‘This email will get the proper attention it rightfully deserves—nay, demands—if I mark it as “Important!” somehow.’ You search for a way to communicate this importance. Should you write “URGENT” in the subject line? No, the all-caps method is too abrasive. Could you send the email and then immediately follow up three times, so that the recipient’s Inbox is chock full o’ you and your request? No, that reeks of desperation.

Then you see it. In the right-hand corner of your Very Important Email, the little red exclamation mark, just calling your name, beckoning you to use it. “I will set this email apart from all the others!” it seems to scream (of course it’s screaming; it’s an exclamation point).

It’s so tempting. Such an easy click. And you really, really want this Work Email answered as soon as possible. Your boss’ boss’ boss needs this information, and the business will probably fall apart without it. If there was ever a situation worthy of a red exclamation point, it’s this one.

So you do it. Just this once. Just to see how it feels.

However, there’s a problem. Because it feels good. Your email got answered in record time; the task was handled with the speed of an Olympic runner. The control is intoxicating—you are no longer impotent in the messy and complicated world of Work Emailing. With one small flick of a finger, you have brought down the hammer of stress and fear on your coworkers. And yeah, okay, maybe it was warranted that one time.

But it lives atop a slippery slope, the little red exclamation mark.

Now you use it all the time. “Important! Let’s have a meeting two weeks from now.”; “Important! Want to get lunch the day after tomorrow at the diner that’s never crowded?”; “Important! I am going to the bathroom.”; “Important! I just took a breath…oh, wait, just took another one.”

What once inspired panic and efficiency in the heart, mind, and busy working fingertips of the email recipient is now ignored, probably with a snort and an eye-roll. Your precious little red exclamation mark has become a joke. You are the Coworker Who Cried “Important!”

So stop abusing the little red exclamation mark’s power. Think before you click.

All the best,
Everyone Else

Submitted by: Jessica MacLeish


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