This is the third tip in on ongoing series on becoming an effective communicator – read the others.
Attention spans get shorter and shorter. We receive news reports from 140-character tweets and 30-second YouTube videos. Anything longer has become so hard to get through! If you want your message to be heard and understood, you have to make it brief and get to the point.
One way to do this: avoid circumlocution. I realize I just used a big fancy word, so let me clarify: Circumlocution is using a lot of words when a few will do. It’s when you plan a route from Los Angeles to San Francisco by way of Atlanta, Georgia. It’s when you take a long, winding scenic route to get where you need to be – when a quick, straight road could have been used in a fraction of the time. Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty is a circumlocution expert; he’s famous for never getting to the point:
Certain personality types like to add a lot of context. They love details, and they give a lot of structure and slowly build up to the point. And there’s nothing wrong with a good story! Often, though, the recipient only needs one piece of information, and they get stuck sorting through a haystack of words, stories, and extra details to find the needle.
My mom serves as the perfect example. I love her dearly, but the day she learned to send text messages was a dark day in my family! Her texts are infamous for being vague and long winded. She struggles with getting to the point on a good day…text messaging just gave her a new way to confuse us:
Each one of mom’s texts require four or five clarifying texts; it’s nearly impossible to find her point amidst all the clutter. What was she trying to ask me? She wanted me to watch the kids, I think? Which kids? At what time? What’s with the random apostrophes? And all this confusion could be avoided if she would just get to the point the first time. Do you have anyone like this in your life?
Like texts, email also generates a lot of circumlocution. Someone might be updating you on a crucial project development and they’ll take four paragraphs throwing numbers at you, detailing problems they encountered, and suggesting ways to fix them before finally telling you the important information that you actually needed!
People don’t like long emails. Often, people who receive long emails will zone out before they get to the end, and then move on without ever finding the point you were making.
People are busy, and time is precious! Make your point quick and clear – both when speaking and when composing emails. Keep the purpose of your communication firmly in mind, and don’t take any detours.
The fastest way between two points is a straight line. Avoid circumlocution and get to the point.
About the author
When I was in college, one of my professors asked me what I wanted to do after graduation. I said, “I want to get paid to teach…without being a teacher. Is that possible?” Soon thereafter, with a degree in Speech Communications from Missouri Southern State University, I launched a career in corporate learning. And I haven’t looked back! I love watching personal development collide with real-time business results. And I love that in today’s crazy, fast-paced business world, where new ideas happen at the speed of light, corporate learning is helping drive company strategy. With over 13 years in the industry, I have honed specialties in the areas of adult learning, change management, learning program development, and instructional design. With these skills, I hope to change Leggett & Platt one “ah-ha” moment at a time.