Why brevity is the soul of business communication
If sincerity and passion are at the heart of authentic leadership, brevity is at the soul.
Brevity can be seen as the ability to express yourself concisely. “Let’s meet at 8.” “I agree with Charlene’s plan.” “That’s not the color I picked.” No wishy-washiness, just pure decision.
My fourth-grade teacher had a knack for brevity. He sent me home with a report card that said I “didn’t mind my own business.” He was blunt (and perhaps a bit savage). He was also able to get his meaning across without any flourishes.
He’d be happy to know that I do mind my own business now. I have minded my own business so well that I’m a successful CEO. I’m also brutally pithy because I believe it’s needed in the workplace to curtail the menace of miscommunication.
Communication errors are costing you how much?
You’ve experienced poor communications on the job. We all have. Like a hot-headed porcupine, it sends people heading for cover. It’s a people divider — and that’s not good for your bottom line or for your employee engagement.
How much are you paying for daily communication misfires? Dynamic Signal’s Annual State of Employee Communication and Engagement Study suggested nearly two-thirds of workers are ready to jump ship because of lousy on-the-job communications. Eighty percent say bad communications stress them out.
Those aren’t good signals. Fortunately, brevity can help.
Brevity improves communications between people in numerous ways. First of all, it keeps you focused and engaged. Why? You have to choose your words. You have to mean what you say. When you’re to the point, you can’t help but be honest and transparent. People appreciate that kind of behavior, especially from leaders.
Truth be told, people especially appreciate brevity from the executive office. After all, you’re not leaving room for convoluted interpretations about where you stand or who you are. This shows confidence, as well as makes personnel feel like you’re not full of unwanted surprises.
Additionally, when you keep everything to verbal or written bullet points, you naturally improve productivity. In meetings, that’s definitely a plus. A Korn Ferry survey suggests as much, indicating 67% of employees feel meetings eat away at efficiency and effectiveness. Therefore, when you shorten what you say, you ultimately shorten meetings and win back precious minutes.
Another benefit to brevity is that you’re going to be taken at face value. When you don’t mince words, fewer people question you. They assume that when you speak up, you’re speaking the truth as you see it. Oh, you’ll still have disagreements and debates. That’s par for the course. Nevertheless, you’ll skirt many arguments that come from misunderstandings.
Of course, brevity isn’t all pros and no cons. Brevity without consideration can come off as tactless, cold and unmovable — not exactly positive adjectives. Therefore, if you’re just diving into this shorthand communication art form, you’ll want to develop a few personal best practices.
1. Be kind, not curt
Brevity in communications means you give a thumbnail sketch instead of a novel whenever warranted. It doesn’t give you carte blanche to act rudely, though. Watch your word choices, being considerate of your audience. Sometimes, you’ll need to follow up and explain your choices to help others understand. Don’t mistake being brief for being brusque or stubborn. Brevity is not an excuse for a “my way or the highway” attitude.
2. Choose words thoughtfully
You’ll want to get more familiar with language if brevity’s your goal. You may need to consider who you are communicating with as well. Are you working with co-workers or clients? You may alter how you communicate depending on who you are speaking with.
Aim to choose the most accurate word in any situation. Saying, “The artwork looks bad,” solves nothing and will probably end up in hurt feelings and future damage control. Saying, “The artwork looks too animated for our brand’s goals,” starts a healthier conversation. Remember: Your communication goals shouldn’t be to shut down dialogue, but to push it forward toward a resolution faster.
3. Economize discussions
Most verbal exchanges include a lot of pleasantries. Those are a-OK. To be sure, you shouldn’t lose your sense of humanity or compassion simply because you’re trying to get to the heart of the matter. At the same time, keep the clock in mind, and make sure idle chatter doesn’t turn into communication quicksand. If you uncover something important during a passing discussion, set a specific time aside to meet and talk about the issue further.
4. Mix levity and brevity
Unless you want to be seen as a curmudgeon, keep your wit intact. I’m not someone who prattles on, but I will occasionally send out humorous GIFs or memes. They’re my way of staying in touch and showing I’m thinking of someone. Never agree to trade your sense of humor for your sense of conciseness.
5. Gab after hours
I’m a different person away from the office. Well, not entirely, but I can relax. Hopefully, you can, too. At those moments, allow your brevity to vanish. Hold onto your ability to select the perfect word for any occasion, but give yourself permission to let go of the need for compact speech. For instance, if you and your co-workers go out for drinks or bowling, be yourself. I like getting to know the people on my team. You should, too.
Here’s my challenge: For the next three weeks, edit what you say and write. See if you can add a dash of crispness and tightness to your professional communications. Then, examine how others react and respond. You might just discover that short and sweet holds more power than you could have imagined.
Jason Hennessey is CEO of Hennessey Digital and an internationally recognized SEO expert, author, speaker, entrepreneur and business executive. Since 2001, he has been reverse-engineering the Google algorithm as a self-taught student and practitioner of SEO and search marketing.