Collaboration

I'm sorry, what were you saying?

Are you someone who uses too many words to express too little information? Here is why that kind of communication is not successful.

Podcast

I will be the first to say that I suffer from a little attention deficit disorder. Part of the problem is the overwhelming amount of information that I have coming at me every day -- it's hard to pay attention to everything. Another part of the problem is that I have the attention span of a chair.

However, an even bigger part of the problem, if I may defend myself, is that there are a lot of people out there who don't know how to communicate in the most effective manner.

You know the type of people I'm talking about -- those who have a little information to share but use a lot of words to do it. Something happens in my brain when I hear someone like that -- what they're saying enters into my brain with the same cadence as the non-distinct voice of Charlie Brown's teacher. I kind of drift off until a word comes out that strikes my interest for some reason. I imagine it's the way my dog hears the world ("wah wah wah wah TREAT wah wah...")

Robert Greenleaf, founder of the modern Servant leadership movement, once summed it up when he said, "Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much." I wish more people in the corporate world knew the power of a sound bite. Sound bites are a short, memorable way to drive a point home.

There's a time and place for long dialogue. But in a fast-paced business environment, wouldn't it be better to cut the clutter when you can so that the ultimate goal of what you are saying is not lost in the delivery of your message? And for the love of all that is sacred, I'm not advocating jargon. Jargon can be short and analogous, but most sane people have such disdain for it that the point is lost anyway.

I found a couple of examples of good and bad communication in a book I received recently. In Shut Up and Say Something, author Karen Friedman uses these phrases she calls "keepers" to illustrate the effectiveness of a sound bite.

Dull: "The sex addicts who use the Internet undergo a speedy progression of their addiction." The keeper: "The Internet is the crack cocaine of sex addiction." Dull: Intussusception is a medical condition in which a part of the small intestine has invaded another section of the intestine. The keeper: "Intussusception is triggered when the bowel folds over on itself like a collapsible telescope." - Bloomberg News

Do you see the difference? You don't necessarily have to be a poet to be able to express yourself succinctly, but if you can get your point across using fewer words, then you should try.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

31 comments
wizard_of_oz
wizard_of_oz

It can be all too easy to coin a catchy sound bite that's wrong or misleading. People remember the catchy wrong thing and forget the long but accurate thing. Politicians use this to their advantage all the time. I've found it helpful to start with the brief summary and wait for questions. If they ask questions, they're engaged. If all they needed was the summary, you've saved everyone time. There's a time and a place for a longer explanation. I've found it best to ask myself 3 questions before going down a long winding verbal path: 1. Do they know this already? 2. Do they care? 3. Should they care? If the answer is no to #1 and yes to either #2 or #3, then talk. Otherwise, keep your mouth shut or keep it brief. And if it's #3, you'd better tell them why they should care, too.

santeewelding
santeewelding

"I'm sorry(period). What were you saying?" Even us chairs know that.

ocampo
ocampo

I beg your pardon.

Peleg
Peleg

It is my policy to steer clear of jargon. Perhaps the one I hate the most is "...on a daily basis..." What is wrong with just "daily" or "every day"? It seem to me that this is a miserably failed attempt at erudition. Next up on my list of hated jargon is "optics". I still haven't figured out what these pretentious characters mean when they say that. I say what I mean using words that I choose carefully to best convey the information or point I am trying to make and I keep in mind who I am talking to. If I'm explaining how I banished a Trojan to an end user, I'll say, "I dug around in the bowls of your computer, found where it was lurking, and killed it." If I'm talking to another programmer, I'll talk about editing the registry Run key, finding the file referenced there, etc. When choosing my words, I often pause to collect my thoughts and find the right words. Sometimes I pause too long and the other person takes that as a cue to jump in, but I've learned to handle that. But thinking about what I am saying is a lot better than just blurting out the first, ill-formed, thoughts that come to mind. I've found that a good way to learn to communicate is to study how the world's best communicators do it. That is, I read good books and pay attention to how the world-class, classic, authors choose their words, string these words together to make sentences, and how they stack up their sentences into paragraphs. My favorite such authors are Mark Twain and Steven King. I choose Steven King not because I think he writes classics (he may have, but I think it is too early to pronounce any of his works classics) but because he must be a good author in order to scare you with just words. You will certainly have your own choice of teachers for this purpose. It is not really such a bad course of study -- while you are doing your homework, you are having a good time reading some good books. It takes work and it takes time but I've found it to be well-worth the effort.

sslevine
sslevine

Steven King can make me "see" and feel a character or mood almost instantly with a modicum of words. He can set a scene, develop the plot, and make me think I'm in the play - all with well chosen, well placed words. Twain also. Good example, and one I can learn from, now that you mention it! My mother was a librarian - 'nuff said.

mikwilly16
mikwilly16

In both of the keepers the author used analogies or similes to describe their meeting in a much shorter version that people may understand/relate to. As stated in an earlier comment, you have to be careful though that the analogy is appropriate for the audience (crack cocaine may be understood but not something to be found in a professional paper) and that the audience will also understand the analogy. If you have people that come from different backgrounds or speak different primary languages, they may not easily understand an analogy. That said, an analogy is a very good way to communicate an idea and sometimes adds interest or comic release to a communication.

lunchbeast
lunchbeast

The art of management these days is covering up your lack ability and expertise with fabricated language, jargon, and buzz words. Intimidate everybody into silence so you can sit tight for a couple of years, then move on to your next company/victim/promotion.

mtndive
mtndive

I think the first example highlights a problem in attempts to communicate. The "keeper" phrase doesn't actually mean anything to me since I don't know how addictive crack cocaine is. I am making the assumption that it must be very addictive based on the nature of the statement. That style of associative statements are as bad as jargon.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

I think it was Mark Twain that said "Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell it to them, and then tell them what you told them" Presentations to students are suppose to start with a preamble, the body, and a re-iteration of the main points. I am not very good at this.

stevieg
stevieg

Hello, Mads, I never heard this attributed to Twain however as a DOD consultant I often heard it applied to the army. With one addition: Tell the what you're going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them and then tell them again. bye, s

mikepritchard
mikepritchard

I book that I have found most useful is "How to get your point across in 30 seconds or less" by Milo O. Frank. it is an easy read but has some powerful information.

aeiyor
aeiyor

I've often been accused of wordiness. In addition, I'm also one for having strong ties into communication. I agree that being brief and getting right to the point is often needed. There's also times when you need to describe what happened or how you've done something. There's a HUGE difference of saying "Issue resolved" versus "In resolution, I modified the parameter in the configuration file (config.dat) of ProgramZ located in Directory C:\Program Files\ProgramXYZ - line item 10, from ResultCode=-3 to ResultCode=-5. This corrected the program from crashing when memory paging file was exceeded." I've also been in meetings and conversations when you know someone has exceeded their word count for their daily requirement and you wonder if you can bottle them up for insomnia.

britezRoman
britezRoman

A deep knowledge of a language is often needed to make communication easy. I've had the bad luck or for some the luck of having lived in non English countries (my parents forced me) and have four languages under my belt. Some see this as a benefit, me too, but it comes at a cost. I'm not a natural in languages and it costs me greatly to try and communicate simply as I need all the words I can grab to describe something. I do support simple communication but stay open to the situation where someone may need more words as English may be their second, third or fourth language.

rob
rob

My experience, living near Chicago for a number of years is a lot of Americans do not seem to have the ability to understand English which is pronounced with a foreign accent. I first noticed in a restorant ordering salmon, where, if one pronounces the 'L' people start glaring at you not understanding... Anyway, because you have real experience in other countries you're not the average American (consider this positive!).

bramanan
bramanan

this is the problem in corp America. otherhand asians tend to talk more faster and to the point. both are two extremes, give some time to other party to grasp the subject of comunication but not too much time to get impatient or not too fast to repeat again- Ram

gechurch
gechurch

I too can be accussed of wordiness. I avoid jargon like the plague, but feel the need to elaborate and be as clear as possible about everything. The prevelence of email hasn't helped. It's too easy for things to be misunderstood, or for tone to be misinterpreted. More than once I've started writing a "short email", gotten about 300 words in before deciding to just call the person. A 60 second conversation can save tens of minutes writing. Having immediate feedback is great like that.

DPeek
DPeek

After years of championing brevity in communication, I moved to Japan. Often here if you start your point too far from the beginning (reading or writing) the listener will not understand and you have to start all over from zero. Ive only been here 6 years but Ive seen no change in that. In English... Hey, time is money. Get to it.

rob
rob

I'm Dutch and I had very many times the feedback that I should be less blunt. It's a typical Dutch habit to say things 'straight ahead'. Don't use many words to say that you don't agree. But, on the other hand that can be very abusive... So, the art of good communication is adapting your communication style to the audience!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Brevity is the soul of wit. Sorry, couldn't resist.

chalicemedia
chalicemedia

I wish I could use the word "little" to describe my ADHD. But then again, I wasn't diagnosed until I'd owned a yellow Labrador retriever for five years. B^)

ssharkins
ssharkins

I sometimes fall into this trap because after making a succinct statement, I'm met with silence. That silence seems to force me into elaborating, when no elaboration is really necessary. How do you get out of that one?

Englebert
Englebert

Studies have shown that you need to repeat your message 3 times for it to get through Studies have shown that you need to repeat your message 3 times for it to get through Studies have shown that you need to repeat your message 3 times for it to get through

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Could you please repeat that? I missed it the first time. ;)

zach.winchester
zach.winchester

...and have been accused of wordyness. I try and remain to the point, but somehow I go off on tangents. What's worse, though, is when people interrupt me and I either lose my train of thought or I have to repeat what I was just saying in order to maintain the coheisiveness of the point. So, if you find that you have to communicate with someone like me, please try and be understanding, and only interrupt them in order to return them to the point at hand. Otherwise what could take a short time to get out could... SQUIRREL!!!!

JamesRL
JamesRL

Ask the meeting: Is that clear, any questions? Often they will say no, and you can move on.

michael_boardman
michael_boardman

(And this is just for fun, not a serious criticism). "Is that clear? Any questions?" No, move on... But if the "No" was in response to "Is that clear?", maybe we shouldn't be moving on just yet!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I assume I've shocked them into silence, and do the Spock: look at them stone-faced and raise the eyebrow.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Fine line, big difference. LOL

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