Solving the Blabbing Leader Problem
Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win one of twenty-five copies of, “Brief,” by Joe McCormack.
In hectic environments brevity is power. People tune out when you blab on.
Successful leaders demand brevity.
3 reasons brevity is vital:
- Focus lasts about 10 seconds.
- We listen 4X faster than others speak.
- Interruptions occur every 8 minutes, on average.
Brevity is a gift.
*7 reasons brevity is rare:
- Cowardice. You hide behind meaningless words and don’t have the guts to take a stand.
- Confidence. You are a know-it-all who can’t stop talking.
- Callousness. You are selfish and don’t respect people’s time.
- Comfort. You let yourself go on and on with people you know.
- Confusion. You think out loud when you should have thought in private.
- Complication. You believe this issue can’t be symplified.
- Carelessness. You are verbally lazy.
Fear and brevity:
Fear inspires babbling.
Fearful leaders stick their tongue in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. The result, they blather on and on without saying anything.
Stop winning people to your position, before explaining your position.
Organizations lose when fear controls you. Worse yet, fulfillment drops when you lose yourself to self-protection.
10 Ways to find courageous brevity:
- Ask people for conclusions before explanations.
- Honor brevity when you see it. You get what you honor.
- Explain and train brevity. If you want brevity, start talking about it.
- Standardize communication patterns. “We shoot for no more than five-lines in emails,” for example.
- Be brief yourself.
- Ask, “What would you like me to do,” at the beginning of conversations.
- Be brief and ask for questions. Talk about what matters to others.
- Realize that game-playing and manipulation thrive in fearful environments.
- Delete the first few lines or paragraphs, when writing.
- Tell stories from the middle. (Love this one, Joe. Thanks.)
Brevity that creates confusion is too brief. Aim for brevity that’s clear and compelling.
Where could brevity be useful in your organization?
How can leaders develop the skill of brevity in themselves and others?
Guilty of #5 – thinking out loud.
Thanks Melissa. ME TOO! Talking helps me think. I need to be selective when I’m thinking. 🙂
Dan, talking is how I process, but I tend to brain dump on my staff. Thank you for such a timely article. Great food for thought – and action.
I took a Meyers Briggs test, one of the 4 catagories it rates your thinking style. Some people are internal processors and some are internal processors. both process information in the same amount of time but the external processor talks through the process and the internal processor will say nothing until they have worked out the answer.
I like the statement “Honor brevity when you see it”
Thanks for the tips on brevity!
Man this is just THE GREATEST BLOG ever!
Dan I do not always agree but man do I have a ton of respect for you.
Ok on point, read this pamphlet on acceptance once!
Says in the square the whirling dervishes were making a racket, upsetting all the upset able!!!
All but one Dude!!!
So I goes over to him and I says, why they not upsetting you like they are everyone else?
He says, where whirling dervishes are concerned…I choose to just let them whirl!!!!
Lol oh the wisdom of simplicity!!
Have a great day D!
#5 is my weaknesses. Really focus on this when dealing with people who are known to appreciate brevity!
Thanks Paul. I hear you. I’m glad for a few friends who enjoy thinking out loud. But, the middle of a meeting or conversation with the CEO isn’t the place for it.
The Elements of Style is my bible. Death to useless words!
I have recently inherited a team with two blabberers…each for different reasons I now realise looking through the list. This will help me to tackle their verbosity in a more focused way, thank you!
Tell Stories from the middle – Fascinating! Please expand on why, how, benefits, etc.
I had same question. What does he mean here. And how does brevity apply in academic settings? Or is this more about leadership style. Professors/teachers lecture. They have 45-90 minutes for teaching. How would brevity apply? No comments, just questions from this post. Thanks, Dan.
Hi, Pete – good question.
From my perspective, the best teaching at any level, but particularly in college, is dialogue, rather than lecture. I am one of those who has been swayed by the adult learning model represented by andragogy, which emphasizes engagement of the learner in the learning process through recognizing their experiences and perspectives. Best way to do that is ask them.
I actually use a combination of mini-lecture (short bursts of my brilliant command of the subject) followed by a much longer series of open-ended questions designed to create discussions.
Not having read McCormack’s book yet, I don’t know anything about the “telling stories from the middle” thing.
John, that’s helpful. Thank you. I teach high school and in Geneva College’s Adult Degree Program. The ADP is laid out exactly as you suggest. Mini-lectures with discussion. Easier to do in a 4 hour block of time than in my high school setting of 42 minute periods.
A leader needs someone they can trust to have those frank, open conversations with.
How do you know who you can trust for that?
As always good points, I think we tend to complicate things with to much talk and not enough action! Sometimes we tend to “sugar coat” things to extremes to get a point across. “Keep it simple”!
I think this is very useful. I negotiate with a union leader that can’t make any conversation sound anything but a fillibuster and her points get lost in the verbiage. I think that I may print off this blog and give it to her!
I like to force myself to think up “micro scripts” (Bill Schley) when pondering topics. If I can’t come up with one that summarizes well then I need to go back to the ‘drawing board’. I find this forces me to get to the essence of the matter. It’s helpful.
Guilty as charged. I find sometimes I get wrapped up in details. Always a struggle to think and talk at higher level. The book “The Pyramid Principle” by Barbara Minto has helped. Still a work in progress.
I’ve learned the greatest lessons for effective, brief communication by improving my writing. I recommend William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White, _The Elements of Style_.
Quite honestly Some have difficulty knowing how to end a conversation without feeling awkward. Fantastic article!
If you earned a degree in University, like myself, one learns to stretch the words to fill a void sometimes in meeting a required length a paper must be. Verbosity does make things more complicated in the real world especially when there is a deadline. In broadcasting school I was taught to be as brief as possible and to maximize the meaning of what you say with as few words as possible. Less can be more if properly structured but it takes practice.
I’ve already said too much … must keep it brief 🙂
Brevity is an acquired skill! With children we have an exercise called ‘Headlines’ that we do in our writing program. The goal is to ‘capture’ the essence of the story. It’s so fun to share and amazingly challenging.
Good point about the University exercises and stretching out the words to fill the word limit. I recall it starting earlier in grade school.
George Burns used to say that the secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible… In humor there is truth.
Verbally lazy. Boom! Since extroverts talk to think and introverts think to talk, knowing yourself to lead yourself is essential. We all have different tendencies and need to learn unique disciplines in regard to brevity. Love it!
🙂 Well stated, Brian.
I like reinforcing this concept by cutting standard meeting times in half. This forces brevity, and gives leaders a platform for teaching it, as suggested in point #3.
Thanks for sharing, Dan!
As a college basketball coach, brevity enters into everything you do. Meetings never last more than 5 minutes-practice never is more than 2 hours-all because of the attention span of young people being so short. Give them 1 or 2 pieces of information to digest and be done with it.
BOOM! I’m still learning. Thanks! 😉
I am guilty of thinking out loud sometimes. Regarding where brevity could be useful, especially for me, is to delete the first few lines of an email. I tend to over-explain in an effort to ensure everybody is aware of the whole issue discussed in the email. I need to trust that those with whom I typically communicate are aware of the basics and proceed from there.
1) Brevity allows my team to focus on what matters and not have to decode the focus from the blabber.
2) Leaders can develop brevity in themselves and others by practicing in group settings. In this setting, when someone gets off topic a group member says a predetermined word. Hearing the predetermined word means hey get to the point!
Thank you for this article. It helps me when I remember that I have not been given a Spirit of Fear. Don’t operate in an environment of fear, it always turns out bad!
The rule of 3 is powerful.
My mentor/coach always pushes to chunk things into 3 succinct items. What are the 3 most important, vital things about this topic you need to convey and create a short, pithy statement for each. If asked or if you need to you can go back and elaborate on each, if necessary. But it gives the whole picture in a context within those 3 points, much easier to remember and take in. Often, in conveying the rule of three people get the bigger picture and can remember those bullet points.
Try “Einstein’s KISS: Keep It Simple & Sufficient.”
Balanced, smart, helpful. Who wants to be stupid? 😉
KISS – Keep it Simple…Stupid!
Half of my team is new, and I am new. I have done TONS of listening this past year, and almost as much talking, no, really dialoguing, to get to know people, to help them know me, to define our restructuring. But this message is timely – now is the time to redirect my chatty group, including myself.
Good story telling is the BEST way to re-engage your audience. While it lengthen your talk time, the audience won’t notice because they will become engrossed in a good story. I am a facts and figures guy by nature, but I am learning to tell good stories. They are very effective.
there’s a point where it makes sense to keep open minded and explore all options – but once the discussion is complete it certainly makes sense to be concise and focused.
Dan, a solid & timely post. This has been a hot topic it seems of late. Thank you for putting great action points in that we can apply in our roles. Appreciate all you do!
With the decline of the attention span brevity is an essential element of effective communication. Say what you mean, Mean what you say, and be done….Thanks for sharing this!
We ask for the Twitter Version of everything….
Wow! This has given me a lot to think about today. I’m going to print this one and keep it handy for a while. I’ve done a few of those at different times and want to change. Thank you, John.
This is a keeper. I’m pinning it.
Knowing the signs and being able to change the outcome are the two most difficult undertakings in the fire service. In our field, we have been conditioned to listen and perform. It is sometimes maddening to deal with this type of leadership and be unable to address this style of management; especially when you have managers that exhibit more than a few of the negative characteristics. How does one affect those above you in a positive manner without suffering for it?
The arrogance I see in babblers is annoying although I have trouble with thinking as I’m talking. Okay; acknowledge is the first step to fixing it!
I’ve been at my new job for just about a year. Since I graduated in 2009, I’ve been working in child care, but where I am now is a spine firm and I work in logistics. I’ve taken your advice, promoted myself when I do good work and keep my boss updated. I’ve noticed we communicate best through email, and short emails best. I hear back from her within 10 minutes if it’s one question, but I either don’t hear from her or get a response. 2 hours later if it’s more than 3 questions.
I’ve also leaned to handle problems myself! Don’t ask permission for every little thing.
Brevity requires honest intentions, a focused mind and respect for those you are communicating with. Communicating in this fashion takes courage. This is powerful! Thanks!
I loved this! I work with someone who rambles on and on and by the time he is done I’ve forgotten the first part of the conversation and can’t respond!
Thanks for this information. This is truly a weakness of mine in leadership mainly because I think out loud. I can filibuster a bill to death. Brevity I must practice.
The team I lead creates requirement specifications for information technology staff to develop code from – being concise is a CRITICAL success factor. One of the biggest complaints we get has to do with a lack of brevity.
One of my direct reports is a blabber, I immediatly sent her this post.
Brevity is awesome, and I for one cannot stand to listen to those who go on and on and on over the same thing. I lose focus quickly. Get to the point and move on.
Thanks Mike. That’s good for a chuckle!
Love these tips!
What a wonderful awaking and lesson points. I’m adding this to my personal “Play Book.” Thank you much!
I learned from a mentor an approach that works well for me in communicating with busy Executives, harried colleagues, and pre-occupied partners. Approach them as if they’re seeing the headlines of a newspaper. It goes something like this:
“Hi do you have 5 minutes or less? Great . . . the headline (subject) is [____]. It involves [who] regarding [why], [how], [where]. I’m recommending [___] and here’s why [state the issue points]. Are you comfortable with pursuing this course of action / recommendation or would you prefer I check back with you for further discussion?”
Sometimes they’ll want to talk more about the subject right then and there and that’s just fine since they’ve been offered up the courtesy for a circle back and they are determining their own band-width. Don’t be surprised if after a few times doing this someone actually compliments you on your clear and concise approach! It’s happened to me.
Brevity is severely under-rated and practiced. In addition to cowardice due to a lack of ability to decide, I see cowardice also present in talking on-and-on in an effort to drown out or intimidate potential alternate points of view.
I am in a trainer position and this has given me some things to think about and a framework to use as I draft emails and have conversations with my staff. Words matter and how we use words matters. Thank you for the powerful reminder!
I read your blogs faithfully but this one compelled me to comment…I am guilty, guilty, guilty of #4 and #5. I’m posting “10 ways to find Courageous Brevity” on my wall to help me get better at this. Thanks for the kick in the pants, Dan!
Thank you. This one is going in my file. I needed it about 2 weeks ago. 🙂
Excellent topic…as an leadership instructor we visited this subject this very morning; maintaining brevity and clarity is an art. Unfortunately, too many leaders in my organization violate items #2 and #3 constantly.
I/we find it helpful to ask for “executive summaries” and key recommendations at the beginning of a proposal or presentation. That helps the listener know better how to listen; and the presenter to have clarity and brevity before writing and presenting.
I have learned that less is more frequently. I used to think I needed to give a lecture to communicate with my team. I know realize I need to have quick conversations with my team where I mostly ask questions and LISTEN to what they have to say. They don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care.
Yesterday’s and today’s posts really helped me wake up and see how very LONG some of my messages are to my team, especially our newest team members. There’s a lot for them to know and learn, but I can’t throw it at them all at once. The last thing I want them to do is tune me out or get overwhelmed. Thanks for the reminders! Once again, I’m taking this to my leader lunch in a few weeks to share with my leader team.
Great post! Contrary to the belief of many “over-talkers” too much verbiage loses you credibility. You either appear to be obfuscating, or even if you do have something valuable to say, people stopped paying attention long ago. I think you should send this out to every politician out there from the President on down!
My mantra is: Be brief, be witty and be gone.
Great post Dan, as always ! And it is true in other languages than English. Human working behavior is universal. I try to tell “the best stories in the fewest words” to my management and I should do the same to prepare my resume and job interviews.
I graduated from college with an English degree, and now find myself in a role that seeks to persuade my company’s Sales Department to move in new directions with data and research. This post, and yesterday’s post speak so directly to the challenge I’ve had of communicating an overwhelming amount of details to individuals who simply don’t have the time or interest in anything apart from the bottom line. These steps on brevity are going to be crucial in helping me become a more effective communicator, and shake out of the “argue your point in a 8pg paper” mindset. Great posts.
I find it interesting personally that I am very brief in verbal conversation, yet verbose and long winded in written form. I think it comes down to the fact that I can see the value of time when I am talking directly to someone by taking visual hints so I use it wisely. On the other hand I know that a reader will carve out time to read my emails… or ignore them if they don’t see the value upon reading the first sentence or two.
Thanks for the reminder. At work, where productivity and fruitfulness is the goal, brevity is helpful and necessary. In other contexts, like friendship and family, where growing trust is the goal, willingness to share the stories of the heart are helpful and necessary. In a family relationship with an introvert, I often made the request of someone who continually lived the rule of brevity, “Extrovert the process.” It helps my trust grow when someone shares, not only the conclusions, but how they got there.
We’ve all sat around the table at one time or another silently screaming, “Get to the point, man!”
Good post Dan – thank you.
I imagine self protection applies to defensiveness. If so, you’re spot on. The need for affirmation and acceptance of my plans and person certainly prevents brevity. I am beginning to realize that what Don Corleon said in “Godfather” is true: “It’s not personal; it’s business.” Or not!
Brevity is a blessing, so concise word choice is essential. Greatly appreciated this blog.
Einstein said it well “everything should be made as simple as possible, and no simpler”.
I think joe was channeling that. Nice work.
Boy, would this book help in my office! Please pick me for a copy!
Great post .
Guilty of 7# complication.
Brevity and clarity in organization will definitely save time and keep misunderstandings to a minimum .
Ouch! Guilty of plenty of these faults! You don’t want me to leave a message on your answering machine. lol But I’m working on that.
Love the line: Stop winning people to your position, before explaining your position. Thanks for the blog, came at the right time!!
In the organizations, brevity can be useful in implementing policies in the same way. When policies are followed rightly and fairly, most of subjectivity vanish and it also minimize blabbing leadership problem. I have seen the organizations where blabbing leaders create space between what is written and what they do. And by doing so, they create their launching platform of safety and security. This may be perception for others but they do with hidden intention. And that is why they do not disseminate information timely and rightly. In fact they either distort and do not convey in time.
Leaders can develop the skill of brevity in themselves and others by showing self- example, encouraging others to do that, rewarding and appreciating for doing brevity in action, behavior and intentions.
I really enjoy that concept of this blog. This blog resembles the old saying, “More is less.”. Thanks for the post.
Fascinating! I would enjoy reading the book.
I submit that you are looking in the wrong end of the telescope. My question is: How does one deal with the boss who is violating all the techniques of brevity?
Brevity – a lesson I need to learn, a trait I need to cultivate. Thank you.
I have a person in my department who feels that they have to communicate everything (what you already know + what you need to know) in long emails and conversations. He has received feedback that people have stopped listening and/or reading his emails but it hasn’t stopped. I would love to give him this book!
I am a blatherer. I read a book a few years ago, “Say It in Five”. His version today would be “Say It In Five Lines”! Glad to see this post, as I need to heed the advise.
Hi, All – apologies in advance if this has been discussed and I missed it. Doing this on the fly, as they say.
I love the idea of brevity and cannot wait to read McCormack’s book. Most of us have probably had experiences with (or maybe were the experience) of saying much more than necessary.
That said, I would note that brevity in and of itself is not effective.Some of the observations I noticed as I skim through the comments tells me that saying less and accomplishing more resonates with many of us:)
I believe that brevity should be teamed with both a thorough knowledge of the subject and a well-honed ability to make a comprehensive statement with a few words. You can easily be brief, but you have to be understood too.
… AND the skills of a master questioner are essential, to make sure that the deeper ideas behind the short message have been received and understood well enough by your audience, whether corporate, social, academic, religious, or other, to result in action for positive change.
Of course, I have not read the book yet, so I might be all wet here:) …
Brevity, part II:
Has anyone commented yet on the other side of the brevity coin?
You know, the person who gives a brief and cryptic command, then expects his minions (us) to carry out his plan in detail and in total … with no further information?
Just wondering:) …
Keep it simple and open up for conversation is always best. Gives people a sense of ownership and they feel better being part of something and contributing rather than being lectured at like they know nothing. Nice article.
Don’t use paragraphs when sentences will do. 🙂
I look forward daily to your Post. Loved the one yesterday regarding breavity in emails.
I took an info mapping course that helped me really chunk down my writing. These are great thoughts since I’m one of the people that tune out if you talk too long. I think it was Einstein who said something like “you don’t understand if you can’t make it simple. “
If I want to practice brevity clearly I need to be brief here itself. No one wants to hear conversations which meanders on. You are seen through very quickly. This is more so in case of leaders who cannot articulate what they want. Such people are not fit to be leaders.
I’m a big fan of brevity. Thank you. Goodbye. 🙂
Above was a jokey answer but to elongate it just a little. I tend to distrust anyone who uses unnecessary long words or office speak to pad out a point. It says a lot.
In brief: I’m only writing this because I want to win that book. 😉
In longer verse: in work environment people should really be able to condense information to bite size chunks. This is the reason why I usually want to resort to a written confirmation of agreed things after a verbal meeting. In written form people have to leave the clutter and thinking aloud away and stick to the facts.
Besides, I’m guilty of over explaining things. I’m kind of chewing the issues before even giving people the chance to do it themselves…
The great thing about being brief is that you have to choose your words carefully.
2 ears, 1 mouth & all that – good post and very helpful having some specific “how to” actions.
Awesome advice. I have a daily word limit and those I work with have learned to be brief & to the point in order to get my advice. It has become a bit of a joke about how I am, but surprisingly it’s changed behaviors. When others approach me they say, “I want to catch you before you reach your daily word limit” and then they go on to the meat of the problem.
Amazing article! Brevity is a flippin blessing! Most people will start humming cartoon theme songs in their head by the 3rd minute of babble.(I happen to be one of those people). To me, when you are comfortable and confident about the subject you are speaking of, the value will be heard immediatly. If you have to ramble, the listener is NOT sold! Say your piece then follow up with answers to the interested person’s questions.
Rather be intelligent than try to convince somebody that I am!
Thank you for sharing!
One of the areas tha I can work on is: 7.Be brief and ask for questions. Talk about what matters to others. I’m realizing that I need to ask more questions rather than assume what people are thinking and wanting.
I like to make sure I provide a complete explanation but it’s all too often way too much. When I do that, people lose me after the first couple sentences. Thanks for the help on being concise.
I bought the book on my kindle and am looking forward to reading it.
Twitter helps one practice this skill, as does preparing pitches. The pitch tools described by Dan Pink in his book To Sell Is Human are effective tools for practice.
These tips are very helpful. I work with (for) someone who rambles on and on without ever getting to the point. It is very frustrating and disrespectful of others’ time. I hadn’t thought of brevity in such clear terms before. This makes good sense. Thank you.