Efficient Communication: How to Say More with Less

Not Enough Time in the Day

We spend 45 minutes of every hour communicating in one way or another. This isn’t a bad thing: leaders need to communicate their intentions as clearly as they hear and understand their teams.

But this communication could be doing more for us – and it doesn’t have to take near as long.

A 2011 Harvard study found that women who spend less time speaking in group settings are perceived by both men and women as more powerful than more voluble women. There’s a lot to discuss around this study and a lot that’s disturbing about it, but at face value it raises a question:

How can fewer words make a stronger impact?

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[Image from Flickr – UN Women]
Let Me Explain

Some leaders have a habit of explaining themselves past the point of clarity.

This actually has a negative effect on accountability and creativity – the worker becomes a cog fulfilling detailed instructions.

Instead, plan the basics of the task and lay them out. Once you’re finished and the team member nods, check understanding: “any questions?”

This encourages them to take ownership of understanding their responsibilities. Leave the door open, but that’s it – you’re done.

Trust them to tell you what was unclear. If your instructions were as complete as necessary, that’s fantastic – you wasted no time. If not, let them ask the question – that’ll be a simpler exchange, and just as enlightening as the explanation.

Another bonus to simplified tasking: it leaves room for imagination.

With too much detail, the team member will basically be working off a script, but if they only have the blueprint, they may find new ways to achieve the same result.

Vocab Pop Quiz

We all know the old adage – Keep It Simple, Stupid. That’s the core of efficient language.

In the office, some advocate “Five Basic Responses” that originate in military training:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Aye aye (I understand and will do as instructed)
  4. No excuse
  5. I’ll find out

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[Image from Wikimedia]
Your office probably won’t start running around and saying “aye aye,” but the responses raise an interesting question: how much actually needs to be said?

Efficient communication creates maximum clarity with minimum words, so it’s worth cutting out a paragraph where a simple “yes” or “great work” would suffice.

And we definitely don’t need to send anyone to a dictionary!

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Originated for today’s limited attention spans, the common internet abbreviation “TL;DR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read) might have a home in the office as well. It’s the new executive summary – only the necessary language, nothing more.

You don’t need to add a “TL;DR” summary to the end of every email you send, but instead focus on composing something tight and efficient rather than a wall of text.

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[Image from WSilver]
In Richard Lanham’s Revising Prose, he outlines six steps to simplicity:

  1. Highlight the prepositions.
  2. Highlight the “is” verb forms.
  3. Find the action. (Who is kicking whom?)
  4. Change the action into a simple active verb.
  5. Start fast—no slow windups.
  6. Read the passage out loud with emphasis and feeling.

In his example, he starts with:

“Perception is the process of extracting information from stimulation emanating from the objects, places, and events in the world around us”

…And ends with:

“Perception extracts information from the outside world.”

Though built for prose, this process will improve any communication. Each word has a stronger impact when fewer words are used – it makes the speaker seem stronger, saves time, and improves clarity.

Open Ears

Good communication is a two-way street, even when you don’t expect it.

When you’re speaking to your team, you may have the floor but you’re not the only one communicating. Watch the faces, the body language – they’ll tell you as much as you’re telling them.

But trying to pay full attention to your audience as you pay full attention to what you’re saying is an impressive feat of multi-tasking. It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy by any means.

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[Image from Benjamin Child]
Instead, favor silence.

Most people don’t. After five seconds of silence, almost anyone will speak up to fill it.

That’s perfect: you have a smart team – you want to hear what they have to say!

And then when you break the silence, every precise word has more impact and authority.