Why am I writing this? What do I want you to do or think as a result of penning it? Does the tone in which I write it make a difference to how you will interpret and act on it?
Looking to tackle these questions, this month Linstock ran a workshop with some leading organisations that put thought leadership content at the heart of their communications. In particular we were keen to assess if adopting a specific tone of voice, be it male or female, determines how people will respond to thought leadership, irrespective of the subject matter.
It’s an area that we’ve been exploring lately and have undertaken our own research to understand which tone of voice is most prevalent. Is it the more direct, active, tone of voice that academia tells us is typically male? Or is it one that’s more open, exploratory and typically female? What’s more, does it even matter?
Last questions first: Yes, it matters.
As thought leadership develops and matures, so organisations and their leaders want it to achieve more sophisticated objectives. Sure, many companies still look to thought leadership to drive brand awareness, shape ideas and provide opportunity to forge new business. But one area of desired response that is increasing is in generating collaboration; working with others to co-create.
If that’s the aim, then there’s a challenge. Our research shows that the majority of written thought leadership content tends to be male in tone.
Indeed, an analysis of the work from the organisations in attendance replicated this trend. A female tone of voice (not to be confused with being written by a female); adopting affiliative language – seeking to connect – is, of course, considered more effective at promoting collaboration.
We asked our room of experts to assess written examples at the workshop. I participated in the event, working with a peer from legal services. The main issue that surfaced from the session was that adopting a male tone of voice is not wrong, nor is female always the right way to go. It is the fact that we take up our tones unwittingly. As those tasked with developing thought leadership, we often do not first question the tone of what we communicate when we set objectives for what we want it to achieve.
The starting point and dominant approach is unquestionably male. Fine. But if we want to collaborate then a female tone is more suitable. This is a new area of exploration, so we don’t have all the answers, but here’s some factors to consider if you want to create a better balance:
- Hedge statements a little more.
- Embrace greater description and longer sentences
- Use language to voice concerns open up debates
- Look to other sectors for some inspiration
- Test thought leadership content with trusted readers.
To read more of our research, download the report here. And in the spirit of collaboration, if you would like Linstock to review the tone of voice of your thought leadership then please do get in touch.