Punctuation is the New Measure of Emotion

Spend less time wondering about the meaning behind that period or (lack of) exclamation marks.

Erica Dhawan


Photo: AustinDistel/Unsplash

In our digital world, our screens filter out the non-verbal signals and cues that make up 60 to 80 percent of face-to-face communication, forcing us to adapt the emotional logic of computers. We’re rendered cue-less.

By way of compensation, our communication style relies on punctuation for impact. In an effort to infuse our texts with tone and to clarify our feelings, we might use exclamation marks, periods, or ellipsis. But instead of clarity, sometimes our reliance on punctuation can generate more confusion because each of the three options carries a different — and infinitesimally subtle — meaning.

Take Jack, a mid-level manager, who just got an email from his boss. It bugs him — or is he overthinking things? The last sentence — That’ll be fine. — ends in a period. It seems to dominate the screen, a black bead, a micro-bomb, lethal, suggestive and — Jack would swear — disapproving. Boss is pissed. But is he really? Did Jack screw up? If so, how? Is he reading into things? If he’s not, how can he work for a boss who’s so oblivious about the implications of a period?

When punctuation sets us off into bouts of uncertainty, self-doubt, anxiety, anger, self-hatred and mistrust, we can be sure we’re living in unmapped times.

Contemporary communication relies more than ever on how we say something rather than on what we say. That is, our digital body language. When the internet came along, everyone was given a dais and a microphone, but no one was told how to use them. We all just picked things up as we went along. And the mistakes we’ve made along the way have had real consequences in business.

Below are three principles of punctuation signals and cues we send out every day that you can learn to employ and perfect in your own life.


Once upon a time, the period, along with the comma, was arguably the world’s dullest piece of punctuation, used exclusively to end a sentence just like this. These days, more than any other punctuation mark, the period — and yes, we’re talking about the same black dot — has evolved to the…



Erica Dhawan

Keynote Speaker on 21st Century Teamwork and Innovation. Author, GET BIG THINGS DONE and DIGITAL BODY LANGUAGE (ORDER HERE: http://bit.ly/3avbJkg)