“Brevity is the soul of wit.” —William Shakespeare
After spending a significant chunk of time researching an internal tool, the day finally came for me to present my findings and get executive approval for the investment. I prepared an hour-long presentation, during which time I would walk my sponsors through the details of my research before making a recommendation. However, only a few minutes into my presentation, I was interrupted by four magic words – words that should’ve been music to my ears: “Okay, let’s go ahead.” Despite the fact that my request was successful, after months of research it didn’t feel right to accept a decision, even one in my favour, without having had the opportunity to be heard out completely. At that moment, I failed to realize the power of brevity.
Learning to be brief can help us avoid going overboard with too many details and, ultimately, confusing our audience. Mastering brevity not only involves learning what to say and when to say it — it’s about knowing when to stay quiet too.
This indispensable negotiation tactic can help us become better communicators. When we understand the power of brevity, we’re less prone to squirm under the awkward and uncomfortable void created by silence, and we can ignore the urge to talk just to fill the emptiness. Brevity also helps us make a stronger case, because it forces us to get straight to the point. In turn, it gives others a chance to weigh in and think things over without too much noise. In short, brevity can save us a lot of extra effort.
Here’s a few more tips to help you master the art of brevity and communicate more effectively:
1. Listen. There’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth.
2. Repeat what your partner has just said. This shows you’re listening and will confirm you heard them accurately. It also mirrors what the speaker said and causes them to reflect.
3. Ask for more. In his book The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier explains how using three small words, “And what else?”, may actually be the best follow-up question in the world. Why? Because someone’s first answer is never their only answer — and rarely is it the best one.
4. Validate. Again, this gives your partner the opportunity to reflect upon what they’ve just said and reinforces the message.
5. Empathize. Being self-aware is the first step to being emotionally intelligent. Learning to empathize with others means you’re walking in their shoes and seeing through their eyes. Sometimes, your response doesn’t have to be verbally articulated, as Brené Brown shares in her short, but very powerful message on empathy, rarely can a response make something better, what makes it better is being able to connect with the other person.
6. Respond. When you must speak, be aware of your words, and be equally aware of your tone and body language as well. How we communicate the message is just as important as the message itself.
7. Affirm that both parties have come to an agreement, not a consensus. When people have the opportunity to be part of the decision, they’re more likely to embrace the outcome, even if the outcome isn’t the one they had in mind.
Now, let’s put brevity into action. Next time you’re meeting your manager or discussing something with a colleague or a friend, be mindful of your words, make the connection authentic, and remember that less is in fact more. Once you apply brevity and the other tips outlined here to your workplace and personal interactions, you’ll find yourself well on the way to mastering the art of communication.