Watch Your Language

One of the wonders of words is how subtle distinctions can make huge differences.

Which means a few seconds' thought about your choice of language can reap big benefits. 

Here's an example - 

Thames Water inadvertently carried out an experiment in the power of words when they advertised for a job. 

The original wording went like this - 

Are you a confident sewage champion who can see off the competition to land your dream job? You should have a background in an industrial setting to help ensure sewage is treated effectively and efficiently.

Seems ok? Does the trick? Says what the job is and the kind of person they want?

But here's the rub - 

What percentage of applicants do you think were women? 

The answer...

8. Just 8 per cent. 

Which is a worry. Because it suggests the company is missing out on a very large pool of talent, one of which might just be the perfect candidate.

So they rephrased the advert along these lines - 

This is an excellent opportunity to make a real impact on the delivery of wholesome water. Join a team with a close knit family feel. We welcome people who want to learn and be team players, and offer mentoring support to help you feel at home.

This time, what percentage of applicants were women?

The answer... with a drum roll... 46 per cent. 

What a difference a choice of words can make. 

Make your language warm, inclusive and positive, and - surprise, surprise - you get better results. 

Here are some more examples from photos I've taken recently. 

Two friends forced apart by coronavirus, or determined to spend time together, despite the disease?

A near perfect blue sky, or a horizon marred by cloud?

A blood red flower, or a vibrant display of summer colour?


When I talk to executives, leaders, and senior managers about their communications, I always emphasise the importance of language. 

Many, when they write messages to their staff, talk about, You're doing an important job, which the public appreciate...

I don't care for such a set up of ideas. For me, it's divisive. 

Wouldn't it be better to say, We're doing an important job, which our community appreciate...

Which puts us all together, as one team, on the same side, rather than apart. 

The subtleties of language. 

Unity, positivity and generosity always work best.

Remember the age old example - someone who sees the glass half empty, as opposed to a person who sees it as half full.

Which of those two characters would you prefer to spend time with?

So when you're constructing your communications, remember to talk us, not you, blue sky, not clouds, and wholesome, not waste.

I'll leave these thoughts with a favourite photo from the Covid crisis. 

The iconic King's College, taken over by ducks. 

A sharp illustration of the shutdown of society, or an invitation for us to appreciate nature and this wonderful world of ours a little more?