SPEAK LESS BUT SAY MORE
There’s a great Seinfeld episode, where George Costanza makes an insightful and funny comment in a team meeting. His boss Kruger starts laughing, followed by all of his colleagues. George seizes the moment, but not as we might expect. He says, “That’s it. I’m out of here” and proceeds to exit the room. The next day, Kruger tells George “You’re my main man. I can’t put my finger on it, but…you always leave me wanting more.”
When I was a young manager trying to progress in a large organisation, I thought the key to my success was to know my stuff deeply, then share my insights, ideas and opinions at every turn – often in great detail. In every forum, large or small, I aimed to demonstrate mastery of my subject matter, no matter how much I happened to dominate a particular conversation as a consequence. Then, before I was to make my first big presentation to the executive team, my manager pulled me aside to give me some friendly advice.
“Peter, it’s clear you know your stuff and you’ve got some great ideas. That’s why I’m giving you this chance to present directly to the executive team. But, having worked with you for a few months now, I can say with some confidence that you’re way too verbose, and you suck more than your fair share of oxygen out of every room. In this meeting, your objective is to be brief, be bright, and be gone.”
As challenging as this feedback was to hear, it was spot on and has been a gift that has kept on giving. In the many years since, I’ve learned that there is usually an inverse proportion between how much we are speaking and how much we are influencing. Those with real influence, speak briefly, precisely, and leave their audience wanting more. Just like George Costanza.
Give the punchline early
Many of us can get lost in a long preamble before we make our key point. This is particularly common when we are trying to give bad news, deal with a sensitive subject or demonstrate to someone more senior that we know our stuff.
The longer you talk without saying anything material, the more nervous, impatient or agitated the other party gets, and it’s not possible to influence anybody who is in that state.
A much better strategy is to give the punchline very early in the conversation. This might sound like, “I can give you the whole story if you like, but the punchline is…”
It works because you demonstrate respect for the other party’s time and you allow them to choose how much information they need. If they want more, they will ask, but now you are still talking because they asked you to, not because you assumed they wanted all the detail. They’re pulling for it now, you’re not pushing it on them, so your influence is greater.
Just the like the wonderful advice I was given all those years ago, your aim is to be brief, be bright and be gone.
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