“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” –Blaise Pascal
I want to thank my colleague Melinda Diciro for sharing this topic (and maybe for subtly calling me out for being long-winded).
After writing a blog for several years and teaching classes regularly, I have found deep truth in Pascal’s words.
Being concise is hard!
But with many people now working remotely—being clear, and brief, in our communication—is more important than ever.
Be honest. Do you ever read long emails? Can you stay focused when a colleague drones on in a webinar?
The BIG Idea: Getting to the bottom line—in written and verbal communication—is a vital personal leadership skill that is more important now than ever. Great leaders communicate clearly, and quickly.
Get to the point already
In my executive coaching program, we spent an entire morning working on the skill of bottom-lining.
It is considered an essential skill in the field of leadership coaching.
Clients don’t want coaches who are constantly talking or giving advice. They want coaches who listen well, ask challenging questions, and give honest feedback.
During our practice session that morning, we went around the room observing other coaches attempting to be concise. Some more successful than others.
If students couldn’t be brief, the instructor would assertively intrude (another coaching skill), and ask them to get to the point. It was somewhat nerve-racking.
The instructors also continuously encouraged us to use W.A.I.T. when coaching—Why Am I Talking?
That day helped me recognize how important it is in leadership, and in life—to develop the discipline of talking less, and getting to the point quickly.
Even in the field of negotiation, the golden rule is—the person who talks least is almost always the most persuasive.
Turn information into action
Do your coworkers (and maybe your spouse) a favor by learning how to get to the point quickly. Your boss and your team will appreciate it!
Use these tips to accelerate your learning curve:
Spend time thinking before you speak in a meeting or by email. Author and expert communicator John Maxwell recommends you always think before you speak. Yes, that may seem obvious to some, but practicing this is a discipline that is extremely useful for meetings, presentations, or email—and we could all probably do it more.
Send less email. Ironically, talking less makes others more interested when you do say something. This also applies to email. And it is important to remember—sending emails usually generates more email. The less email you send, the less email you usually get, which cuts back on a huge time waster for most of us. Nearly all productivity gurus recommend checking your email only a few times per day for short windows of time, and only sending messages when truly necessary.
Write very clear subject lines. I can’t stand it when the title of the email doesn’t match what the person is talking about, or when people reply to emails that have nothing to do with the email subject. It can waste a lot of time trying to figure out what the person actually wants. Your boss and your colleagues will greatly appreciate when you title emails clearly. If action is needed from someone, write “Response Needed” in the subject line so there is no misunderstanding. Practice doing this with every email you write, and you will improve rapidly
Lead with your key point or question. Often people wait until the end of the email to ask their question or state the most vital information. Don’t do this. Instead, lead with your key question or the most important information. People will be more likely to read your message.
Ask short, clear questions. Listening is vital in persuasive communication and one way you can listen through email is to ask questions. Make sure your questions are clear and brief.
Make it clear WHO you need the answer from, and WHEN. Diffusion of responsibility is rampant in long emails to groups of people. Make sure you state the person responsible and clear deadlines. In management roles, this is very helpful.
Think about what the other person wants from you. Robert Cialdini is a social psychologist, professor, and best-selling author, who recommends you always spend some time thinking about the other person when communicating in any format. Ponder the question—What do they need from me?
Don’t reply all! This point really doesn’t require explanation does it? There is nothing more annoying than people who continuously reply to everyone on the email chain. Be extremely careful any time you reply all.
Don’t forget there is still a device called a phone. My friend Doug nearly refuses to text. He does almost everything with a phone call. I love that. Sometimes a phone call is worth 100 emails. We can save time by simply remembering that a conversation is often a better way to get a quick resolution—especially when it comes to any topic that might get emotional. Never use email or text for anything that could generate an emotional reaction.
Have a great weekend!
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- Your Colleagues Don’t Read Anything You Write—New York Times
- Developing the Leader Within You—John Maxwell
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion—Robert Cialdini