There’s a suspect statistic about women going around the Internet today.
The stat says women speak 20,000 words a day, compared with men, who utter a mere 7,000 words. That might ring true for some, but it comes from a widely criticized (though best-selling) book called “The Female Brain.” It’s a notion that’s been debunked
since the book’s release in 2006.
So, why are those figures getting tossed around again?
The 20,000 vs. 7,000 stat has helped color a number of stories this week about new research
from the University of Maryland School of Medicine that shows female brains possess more of the “language protein.”
Here’s how Cheryl Sisk, a researcher at Michigan State, explained the study: “The higher levels of Foxp2 expression”—that’s the language protein—“are found in the more communicative sex in each species.” In humans, babies with the larger amount of Foxp2 are girls, according to researchers.
“Girls tend to speak earlier and with greater complexity than boys of the same age,” said the study’s authors.
So women may—or may not—talk more than men once they reach adulthood. Science publications suggest they do; meanwhile, NPR and The Guardian
have debunked the notion.
What do people working in the communications industry think about the new research? PR Daily
asked a few of them.
Both genders can suck at communicating
“Some men are great communicators; some women suck at it, and vice versa,” said T.J. Dietderich, a marketer for TimeToPlay.com.
“I think we spend an awful lot of time trying to come up with evidence to support the idea that men and women are, in general, fundamentally different when our personal experience with—you know—people tells us otherwise,” she said.
Aaron Perlut, managing partner of Elasticity, a St. Louis-based digital marketing and public relations agency, thinks a woman’s ability to communicate gives her a unique skill in PR and marketing.
“Women are far more willing to explore their depths of feelings and discuss their feeling than men might be,” he said. “I view that as a very positive thing—being able to shape that willingness to articulate into the way an audience wishes to receive a message can be a great asset.”
However, over-communicating can turn off an audience, whether it’s a reporter or a social media following.
“There’s a lot of science delving into what PR and marketing people do,” Perlut said, “but it really comes down to your willingness to understand your target audience.”
In other words, it’s all about empathy—people who talk too much are probably not taking enough time to climb inside their audience members’ shoes, so to speak.
Empathy is key
Sarah Skerik, the vice president of social at PR Newswire, agrees with the empathy element.
“The best communicators, in my opinion, are people who have a lot of empathy for their audience, and can deliver what their audience needs,” she said.
For Skerik, this means being aware of body language and adjusting how you’re communicating accordingly.
“This can mean shifting from a highly analytical, ‘just the facts’ delivery in a meeting with your CEO to considering the potential emotional responses of online audiences as when planning a digital communications campaign,” she explained.
“Are women better at this than men? Possibly. But it seems to me that empathy is more crucial to communication effectiveness than a tendency toward chattiness.”
PR exec Tina Cassidy, author of the book “Birth: The Surprising History of How We are Born,” put it more bluntly.
“Talking more doesn't always mean communicating better,” she said.
Cassidy, a senior vice president at InkHouse Media and Marketing, said that if women are better communicators than men, it probably stems from long ago.
“In ancient times, when men were out hunting wooly mammoth, women were left behind to tend and befriend,” she explained. “They had to be better communicators in order to survive as a group.”
What do you think? Are women better communicators than men?