In Communication, Less is Better Than More


“Less” sounds undesirable. Who wants to settle for less when you could have more? Well, in communication, less is often much better than more.

For example, if you are offering a proposal to a prospective customer, it’s much better to offer just the top three options rather than eight possibilities. If you give too many options, you make the decision harder, distract attention away from the top options, and make it less likely that the customer will buy anything at all. That’s not good for you or the customer.

The same holds true in a report. A concisely-written page is often more valuable than a sprawling 15-page report–even if the sprawling report has more information in it. Why? Because it’s been essentialized, your reader can read it faster, and get the main points quickly, without a lot of analysis. When they read something that meanders, they have to do the summing up and integrating and prioritizing that you didn’t do for them.

Essentializing is good for the mind. We can only hold a few units in mind at any one time. When you can package your message into a few meaty units, you get clearer on your message, and your audience has to do less work to “get it.”

How do you do essentialize what you want to say? It takes extra thinking to turn a pile of ideas into a targeted message. Here are three ways to help:

1) Think about your purpose before you think about your message. Why do you want to have this conversation or write this report? Do you want the listener or reader to do something as a result? Knowing your goal can help you figure out what’s important to include versus what’s not.

2) No matter how long a piece you’re writing, or how much you’re talking, make sure you can reduce your message to its core thought. That’s a single grammatical sentence, under 15-20 words. You can think of it as the theme, or the point of the piece.

When you can pare it down to that size, you can communicate the essentials in a mind-friendly unit: a sentence. When you share that core thought, it will help organize and integrate everything  else you say.

3) Make the message more precise using differentiation. Go through your core thought, looking for places you could insert an “as opposed to ____” phrase. Then elaborate on each one. When you state explicitly what you are NOT saying, you demarcate your positive message.


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