Do you remember the last time you asked an employee a question and the person ran on and on, providing too much irrelevant detail and too little useful information?
Brevity is the concentrated transmission of meaning through language. Employees who embrace brevity communicate more powerfully and respectfully, and what they convey is more memorable to the listener.
Managers appreciate when employees respect their valuable time, and violations of brevity occur as wasteful impositions on the listener’s gift of attention. Below are some quick tips on how managers can provide their full attention and employees can honor it.
When you have an agreement about the purpose, scope, and topics of the conversation, then you avoid most of the anguish of conflicting priorities and values. The way to align values is to have a brief conversation about how you will use your time together, and seek agreement on the following:
1) Time. You both have the same sense of how much time you have for the conversation. “I’ve got 50 minutes until I need to get on another call, does that work for you?”
2) Outcome/Agenda. Each primary member of the conversation states the outcomes they want, “I want to fill you in on what happened”or “I want to learn more about your work and how I can support you to succeed.”
3) Summarize. When you are speaking, begin with a summary of why the person might want to listen to you: “I want to share the amazing story of what happened based on the advice you gave me.”
4) Check-in. If you have been speaking for more than one minute, pause and check with the listener, “Is what I am saying of interest to you?”
5) Ask for reflection. Give the conversation back to the listener by yielding your most valuable resource, thoughtful questions: “Anything you notice about what I just discussed?” or, “What feedback can you provide?”
For you managers out there, your listening skills and quality of attention are as important as an employee’s brevity. When you are distracted, annoyed, impatient, or are just waiting to interject your own thoughts, that is just as disrespectful as a talker’s over-talking.
Offer your full attention, with quiet mind and open heart, and be willing to be changed forever by the next phrase falling from the speaker’s lips. You are providing the most sought after element in any relationship — the extraordinary gift of active listening.
But with a finite amount of time in your day, it may be difficult to give your full attention, especially to those who do not respect brevity. Here are four ways to manicure an interaction so that you receive information quickly, while letting the speaker feel heard:
1) Request a specific time limit. This can seem rude, but done right it smoothes things: “OK, I feel we can take five minutes to cover this topic, and then there’s three more things I want to talk about with you – does that work?”
2) Get a road map. People sometimes feel they must communicate in full detail, otherwise something important might be left out. The best move here is saying, “I get that you have a lot to say about this topic. Could you just give me a little road map of what we need to cover?” This generates a summary and makes the talker aware of the scope of the conversation, while still feeling heard.
3) Summarize what the speaker has said so far. People often repeat their points multiple times, or in different ways, because they feel un-heard. Try reflecting back what was said. “Hold on a sec, sorry to interrupt, what I’m getting so far is that work is stressful, and you want to make some changes. Is that right?” This move can head off a series of unnecessary examples and stories, while having the speaker feel listened to deeply.
4) Ask for completion. “I hear that you had a rough experience last week with the team. What’s most important for me to understand about that?” The ‘most important’ phrase generates a summary communication from the speaker, and has them feeling heard and understood, yet encourages brevity.
Fluid office communication depends on the intentions of both the speaker and the listener. The speaker’s role is to respect the listener’s time and learn to convey information in the most efficient way possible. The listener’s role is to engage with the speaker at the appropriate times to set a container and guide the interaction. With a bit of practice, a speaker can avoid boring a listeners to tears, and a listener can avoid cutting off a speaker who is vulnerably (and poorly) sharing something they deem of paramount importance.
Nathan Otto is a changemaker, corporate leadership consultant, personal counselor and author. He is the CEO and co-founder of Holometrics, and the not-for-profit Safe Conflict Project. Nathan is also the co-author of Give Peace a Deadline: What Ordinary People Can Do to Create Peace In Five Years.
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