How I learned to communicate with less


Growing up with my parents, I had to explain everything in detail. My constant experience with communication for about 18 years was making sure I explained everything in a long-winded, detail-oriented manner. I was never to assume that something was common sense or understood. I’m sure people noticed this about me in college too but no one ever really said much about it.

It wasn’t until I entered the workforce that I learned what the word “succinct” meant and that I was taking an hour to explain something that could be explained in a minute. Apparently, in the real world, executives are not willing to give you hours and hours of their time like I had hoped for. But, how was I supposed to present an entire strategic plan in five minutes when it took me nearly a month to develop? How would I explain my new idea for an entire program initiative in a two sentence email?

Well, it wasn’t long until I had to learn to do just that. One day, my Executive Vice President (EVP) asked me to develop a strategic plan. Before finishing my first draft for the leadership team, I had one question about the involvement of senior leaders. I sent my EVP an email that outlined my question – explaining what I’d come up with so far, what my recommendations are for their involvement and why I need more information. Two days later, he showed up in my office and here’s how the conversation unfolded:
EVP: “How’s that project I gave you coming along? You need anything from me?”
Me (in my head): “Are you joking or just a lazy idiot who doesn’t check his email?”
Me (in real life, out loud): “Yes, actually I sent you an email the other day. I just had one question before I submit it. Did you get a chance to read it?”
EVP: (chuckles) “Oh, yes, that email. I opened it but I didn’t read it. Lotus, I thought you were smarter than that. Why would you send me such a long email? What’s your question?”
Me: “Well, I just wanted to tell you that I was almost done…”
EVP: “That’s not a question.”
Me: “I wanted to know if you agreed with my recommendations for senior leadership involvement…”
EVP: “Yes, I trust you. Put it in there. When we review it, we’ll make any appropriate changes. That’s it?”
Me: (defeated) “Yeah, I guess. Thanks.”
EVP: “Listen, you want to make it to where I am one day, right? Well, you have to learn how to be more succinct. No one wants to read. It’s not just the c-suite. Anyone will respond to a two-sentence email before a two-paragraph email because it’s just easier to do so.”
Me: “I just thought I should let you know that I was almost done.”
EVP: “Executives don’t want a progress report nor do they care HOW you plan to get something done. When I ask you to do something, I want to know one thing and one thing only: WHEN will it be done?”

He was a blunt man but I didn’t mind. The thing that stuck out to me? That it wasn’t just the c-suite who wasn’t reading my emails but that nobody was reading them. That day, I vowed to learn what “succinct” meant and to start communicating that way. Needless to say, I spent that night on Google and Wikipedia.

So, you might be wondering why I’m sharing this story. It’s this lesson that has tremendously changed my relationships and productivity at work. After becoming succinct in both my verbal and written communications, I was getting quicker and more responses from people. In fact, I gained the reputation of being the one who can “get it done.” When my coworkers would have trouble getting an answer or response from someone, they’d come to me and I’d get a response from that person right away because I sent a shorter, to-the-point email or voicemail.

The other benefit of communicating with less? I really believe that I’ve built a better rapport and working relationship with senior leaders because I learned how to communicate with less. They are more responsive to me, understand and believe in my work and allow me to be more productive and independent in my work.

So, remember, it’s not always enough just to communicate the “what” and the “how.” Sometimes, it is even more important how many words you use to communicate your message.


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