“I wish I knew how important brevity was for me 30 years ago.” That’s a powerful confession to hear from an accomplished Fortune 500 professional.
I had just wrapped up a “Brief Leadership” seminar with a group of manufacturing managers and one of their senior leaders pulled me aside afterward. I thought he was going to thank me or ask a follow-up question.
“I just can’t help myself with words,” he lamented. I was floored by his candor.
Recognizing that his successful career, nearing its end, had been filled with constant falling into temptation to over-explain, he confided to me that his default mode was to dump on his subordinates and give them lengthy lectures.
He was looking me straight in the eye, completely serious and contrite. “I’m going to change. I just wish I knew this at the beginning of my career.”
I walked away thinking that he’s not alone. Many managers feel that way when they realize the impact they have on others when they get lost in their own words. Their ability to lead, manage and stay ahead is hindered by a lack of discipline when communicating.
In your career, grasping that “less is more” can be a powerful, immediate and profound realization.
So why don’t more leaders catch themselves before falling? Who needs to get the message that talking less and listening more is an essential 21st-Century leadership skill? What can professionals do to avoid the lure to be long-winded?
Here are three pointers that will help you avoid the temptation to pour it on:
1. Brief means balance. Professionals often think that when they communicate they need to share everything they know, regardless of how long it may take. They’re perpetually running out of time to cram it all in. Brevity means maintaining a fine balance of being clear, concise and compelling. When you’ve made your point, don’t try to make it sharper.
2. Filling what’s already filled. Your subordinates and colleagues are already flooded with information, constantly interrupted and highly inattentive. Think of their heads like a glass of water with only a few inches left to the top. Your job is to be certain that their minds don’t overflow with your wasted words.
3. Leave room for a response. Pause to give people time to process. Their minds are so often so burdened and divided that they need to take small breaks to digest and respond. These silent pauses are critical to knowing not only that what you’ve said has sunk in, but that they’re on board not over board.
Long story, short: Choose your words carefully and economically. Effective leaders today are mindful communicators, aware of the needs of their audience as well as the message they are trying to get across, briefly.
Joe McCormack is an experienced marketing executive, successful entrepreneur and author. He founded and serves as managing director of The Sheffield Company, an award-winning boutique agency recognized for its focus on narrative messaging and visual storytelling. His new book, Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley & Sons, 2014) tackles the timeliness of the “less is more” mandate. In 2013, he founded The BRIEF Lab as a specialty institute to help business and military leaders become lean communicators. There are currently facilities in Chicago, IL and Southern Pines, NC.