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.


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.