War of the Words

Published: 03 October 2019

Our gender research reveals a female tone of voice might be best for communicating with aliens.

The lessons are that if you want people to engage and communicate then don’t make the short, terse assertions most often associated with a male tone of voice. Instead use longer sentences that encourage a response.

Men want to get in contact with aliens. Women, however, are less keen, according to research revealed at the British Science Festival a few weeks ago. Of course, anyone who’s seen Spielberg’s E.T. understands that it’s Elliott who has the connection, or that it’s Roy Neary with the UFO obsession in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The research reveals that 65 per cent of men want to reach out to extra-terrestrials, compared with 47 per cent of women. It’s men who want to communicate with the Martians. But might aliens have better, more meaningful conversations with women, much like Louise Banks’ experience in Arrival?

Despite their relative reluctance, which up until recently has been reflected in the sci-fi films we know and love, perhaps it’s women who need to send the messages and reach out across the galaxies. Because according to our own research here at Linstock, the writing styles typically used by men and women generate different responses. And adopting a female tone of voice is more effective at engaging audiences. If we want E.T. to phone back, maybe a female character, is better placed for the communication.

The lessons are that if you want people to engage and communicate then don’t make the short, terse assertions most often associated with a male tone of voice. Instead use longer sentences that encourage a response. Ask questions too. Try: Where are you from? Are you here to enslave us all and destroy our planet? That sort of thing.  When you get a response, unpack and explore it. When the aliens in Arrival assert their purpose as “Offer Weapon”, this short sentence, understandably, gets misinterpreted by armies and governments around the world, without anyone asking the aliens what they mean.

Other recommendations when adopting a female tone and trying to draw audiences in are that statements should hedge, opening up discussion rather than closing it down. Consider embracing greater description and longer sentences. Use language to acknowledge concerns and build relationships.

This is significant for communications, particularly at a time when one aspect of it – thought leadership – is growing in popularity. Our experience is that, nine times out of ten, companies want to show that they have insight and new ideas but, crucially, that they want audiences to join in with these, and not assert their thoughts as absolute. Real thought leaders understand that it is exploring new thinking and fostering collaboration that creates progress and brings people willingly into the conversation.

If we don’t want to keep our audiences in a galaxy far far away, then assessing the language with which we convey our thoughts and ideas is key. Our research demonstrates that a better way to beam people up is purposefully assessing the tone and style we adopt, and that this can be as important to engagement as the subject matter itself.

Keith Brookbank

Director

Click here for a copy of the report.

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