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Leadership Communication Tip: Do Not Confuse “Verbosity” With “Specificity!”

I was having lunch with a client last week. We had been working extensively with his senior leadership team on more effective communication, especially around overcoming The 7 Deadliest Sins of Leadership & Workplace Communication.

Of the 7 deadliest sins, the one their team was focusing most on at this time was “specificity.” It was something my client really thought could make a difference in the results his team achieved together by making sure mis-communication in the workplace was reduced between team members.

At lunch he said, “here, you have to listen to this.”

He handed me his IPhone and hit the “play” button to a voice mail message left by one of his direct reports.

It was just under 3-minutes in length.

The woman leaving the message rambled on with background and explanations about the situation. Details most of which my client already knew or understood.

When he brought this up to his direct report she said, “well, you asked us to be specific in our communication with each other.”

I told my client, ” well, we may have to have another training session to make a distinction between “specificity” and “verbosity.”

Specificity does not mean you need a lot of words to make your point.

As a matter of fact, too many words are part of the problem. Details get lost in a sea of words, and people tune out.

Jerry Seinfeld, master comedian, has said he will spend hours refining a joke to cut it from eight words down to six. The fewer the words, the more powerful the punch line. He cited the classic Henny Youngman joke, “take my wife, please.” Just four words makes a very funny point.

Here are some tips for eliminating verbosity from your attempt at specificity:

  1. What’s your point?
    As Steven Covey wrote in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, begin with the “end” in mind. What is the 1 point you are trying to convey. If you could only get one point across in this conversation or request what would it be. Focus only on that one thing.
  2. Apply the 30-seconds or less rule
    Take no longer than 30-seconds to convey that one point. This may take some preparation and practice, but it will allow you to influence those you speak with who no longer will tune you out. Over time they’ve probably come to expect a long diatribe from you and they probably begin tuning out inside of the 30-second time limit from past experience. You are going to have to retrain them to pay attention and this is a great way to do it.
  3. Ask if the person needs any more background to the situation?
    Once you complete your request within the 30-second time frame and the person to whom you are speaking responds, you will learn from their response whether they need more background information or explanation from you. If they do, they will probably ask in their reply for clarification. If not, feel free to ask them if they need any other information. This gives them the opportunity to ask for it and not be forced to be the recipient of information they don’t need.

Confident leaders communicate succinctly with just the right amount of specificity and detail to make their point and get the results they need from their team.

If you’d like to learn to communicate with greater confidence, and learn 5 other critical skills for confident leadership join me this Thursday, August 11th at 4pm Eastern time/1pm Pacific for a free teleclass The 6 Critical Skills for Confident Leadershipregister for free at

’til next time, make it a great week!

skip weisman, transforming leadership and workplace communication to deliver champion level results


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