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Less is More: When You’re Saying Too Much And Getting Ignored

| July 15, 2014

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading “Less is More:  When You’re Saying Too Much And Getting Ignored” is Lisa Evans’ review of Joseph McCormack’s book Brief: Making a Bigger Impact by Saying Less.  The review appeared in  McCormack is a marketing executive who, among other activities, counsels military leaders and senior executives on key messaging and strategy initiatives.

In spite of hearing the phrase “less is more,” too many of us continue to over-explain, send overly long email, schedule hour-long meetings when 15 minutes would do, etc.  The result is that much of what we say and write in these contexts is ignored!  McCormack says that getting to the point is crucial to attracting your listener’s attention.  “Brevity is an essential skill that can propel a person’s career in an age where the people that they’re talking with are overwhelmed.”

McCormack’s research found that the average professional receives 304 emails per week (low for almost everyone I know), checks their mobile phone 36 times an hour, and gets interrupted every eight minutes.  He also found that attention spans have shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight in 2012.  

And, 43% of people who receive long-winded emails delete or ignore them.  They are overwhelmed and can’t deal with the email when it arrives.  So they delete it or put it aside until they have time.  He notes that a short email with a strong, specific subject line will more likely get read and taken seriously.

McCormack believes we often are long-winded because we believe we can prove how smart we are by over-explaining, by show casing just how much we know.  He notes that from an early age we are taught to measure our success by word counts and page lengths.  Chip and Dan Heath, in their book Made to Stick, call this the “curse of knowledge.”  We believe that the hearer/reader simply cannot understand the issue unless we walk him/her through all the details we walked through to get the result.

Making it brief is hard work and takes a lot of time.  We have to carefully cut through the vast amount of material involved in the issue to identify the essential and then state it clearly.  We often are unwilling to take the time required.  Yet, McCormack notes that brevity is an essential skill that helps people stand out as being disciplined and professional.

To assist you in doing this, McCormack has a formula.  You start with the headline – for example,  “XYZ project is behind schedule.”  Then you have exactly five major bullets:

•               B (Background) – A quick context for the email, the report, …

•               R (Reason) – Why now?  Why the reader/listener should pay attention.

•               I (Information) – The two or three key points.

•               E (End) – The end-point you want to leave with the reader/listener.

•               F (Follow-up) – List the questions you anticipate might be asked of you?  (And, develop your answers as you write the email.)

Being BRIEF  –  say, one screen –  is hard but well worth the effort, both to you and to your audience.  It requires that you really prepare in more detail before you begin.  

I urge you to give it a try this week to see how it might benefit you.  .  .  .     jim