How to communicate without being THAT GUY

By The Editors
October 22, 2015 9:00 am


Sorry, we used to have this boss. Fantastic editor. Phenomenal writer. Smart as a whip, funnier than a rubber nose.

Also a huge fan of the CAPS LOCK key.

Revisions to draft? CAPS LOCK. Subject line of urgent email? CAPS LOCK. Sticky note on your desk telling you about an impromptu meeting in 30 minutes? Manual CAPS LOCK.

People did not like being told things in CAPS LOCK. Because a capital letter is not just a letter; it is a signifier. In punctuation, it announces the initiation of a new thought. (Unless you speak German, in which case it’s used for, well, everything. Which is arbitrary and beside the point.)

The point is this: the capital letter means business. It commands attention. And when you string many capital letters together in succession, you abuse that convention. Disarm the capital letter of its power. You, in essence, begin to yell.

Stop that. Do this instead.

Use bold letters. Like these ones.
Bold letters give your words the all the emphasis of caps without the aggression. You can easily shortcut to bold using CTRL+B (Command+B on an Apple) in the entire Microsoft Office suite, Google Docs and GMail. In Google chats or upstart collaboration app Slack, put an asterisk on either side of a block of text to render it bold (*like this*).

English teachers tend to correct papers using red ink to to make sure students see their errors (blue or black ink wouldn’t provide enough contrast to text proper). When your correspondent edits a piece, he likes to do the same thing (you can color text in most word-processing programs in a snap via the “Format” menu or a tool-bar icon).

Use emphatic language
Rather than writing an email subject line in all caps, try using words like “urgent,” “important” and “ASAP” (we’ll allow the acronymic cap).

Pick up the phone or schedule a meeting
In the end, the real bane of using all caps is that it’s passive aggressive — if a message is important enough to merit all caps, it’s probably something that should be discussed in person (or over the phone).

Now go forth and communicate with conviction. Just not caps.

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