Say More with Less
I’m reading a book called Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less which, ironically, uses an astounding number of words to say, “Use fewer words.” My friend recommended it to me, probably because I am a wordy writer. Why use 7 words when 149 will do? (I’m working on it. I promise.)
The authors are right though: When you have something important to say, make it as clear, direct, and easily digestible as possible. No one has the time or attention span to wade through meaningless jargon, endless caveats, or a bunch of extraneous details.
Why do we dump so much unnecessary communication on each other? There are many possible reasons, which I will refrain from listing in order to be concise. (I told you, I’m working on it!) This is the one issue I can help you with though: You try to make words do the work of nonverbal communication.
Here are five messages that are better “said” nonverbally:
The more important the message, the more words you use. I get it. But that just dilutes what you have to say. You lose your audience with overlong explanations and repetitions; then they miss out on what they need to hear.
Instead, highlight your main point and give your audience space to digest it. In writing, you highlight with larger fonts, boldface, or color; you give space by chunking the content into sections, using bullets, or shortening paragraphs—i.e., more white space!
You can do that when you’re speaking, too.
- To highlight: Vary your voice speed and volume, gesture, and pause before your point.
- To give space: Keep your body still, breathe, and pause after your point.
If you want people to take you seriously, communicate confidence. Numerous nonverbal skills can accomplish this, but they all come down to one thing: Are you willing to be seen? Stop hiding, stop shrinking, stop murmuring and muttering. Use space and time and volume; accept the attention they bring. For others to believe you matter, you first have to show up and be seen.
For more specifics on the nonverbals, see “10 Ways to Communicate Confidence Nonverbally.”
Go ahead and say the actual words. But for them to carry any weight, you must also “say” them nonverbally, through the four components of presence:
- Mind—Clear your mind, shut off your inner chatter, and be present.
- Body—Give attention through eye contact, physical contact (if appropriate), and listening carefully.
- Space—Create safety and inclusion by holding space.
- Others—Watch for cues and adjust your approach so the other person can be comfortable.
“You can trust me.”
Like “Calm down,” “Trust me” is a useless phrase. If you have to say the words, you’re in no position to say them. Trust must be demonstrated, and you do that by conveying credibility, authenticity, and empathy. Here’s how:
- Credibility—Use authoritative voice tone and posture.
- Authenticity—be fully present and reduce nonverbal barriers, such as crossed arms
- Empathy—demonstrate that you see others by facing them, making eye contact, and avoiding distractions
Depending on the situation, you may need to say this out loud. Make sure, though, that the message gets across by using appropriate nonverbals. Specifically, be still. For example:
- In front of a group, stand still before trying to get attention.
- When you need to interrupt, hold up a hand or finger and freeze it before speaking.
- When giving a firm “no,” speak authoritatively without wavering.
Whether or not you actually say the word, you can get the message across nonverbally.
To ensure 100% communication, always align your nonverbals with your words. But sometimes, you send a clearer, stronger message by using only nonverbals and avoiding words altogether.