What Do You Do When Co-Workers are Long-Winded?

Article contributed by Terry Hildebrandt, PCC

Have you received feedback that your communication needs to be more succinct? Do your colleagues roll their eyes in meetings when you begin to share what you believe to be an interesting and captivating story? While you might have the gift of gab, your colleagues may not always appreciate this gift in business or personal settings. I work often with mid-level executives who have been told they need to be more succinct, especially when communicating with upper management. Here are some common symptoms of being too verbose.

Symptoms of long-windedness:

  • Sharing too many details that don’t contribute to your key message.
  • Explaining or justifying your reasoning for any decision in great detail.
  • Documenting a blow-by-blow narrative of situations to provide context.
  • Thinking out loud with no clear road map for your audience to follow.

Causes of long-windedness:

  • Lack of confidence in your own judgment

As an expert in your field, your company has hired you to provide your opinions and recommendations. Your audience doesn’t want to do all the analysis themselves to come to the same conclusion that you have. They want your bottom line conclusion with just enough data to convince them that yours is a good decision. Newer executives often feel that they need to prove that their decisions are justified. While this may occasionally be the case for complex or high-risk situations, more often than not your recommendation or conclusion is all they need.

  • Lack of structure

Another cause of long-windedness can be a lack of structure in your communications. This is especially a common problem for extroverts who need the opportunity to think out loud. The side effect of sharing thoughts as they emerge can be confusion on the part of your audience.

  • Ignoring the communication style of others

Individuals vary in the level and type of information required for them to understand situations and make decisions. For example, sensing types prefer concrete data while intuitive types prefer to hear trends, theories, and patterns. A common mistake is to assume that everyone is like us and prefers the same communication approach as we do.

What you can do to be more succinct and clear:

  1. Follow the Think-Feel-Do principle – Keep in mind what you desire your audience to be thinking, feeling, and ready to do at the end of any communication. This simple principle addresses the head, heart, and hands. Craft your communication in such a way that your audience will know how they should feel, what they should think, and what they need to do. Strategically choose details and stories that reinforce these objectives.
  2. Seek feedback  – Check in frequently to see if others are tracking and if they have heard the key points of your message. Only provide more details if they need it.
  3. Adjust to others’ communication styles –  Ask others how they prefer to communicate and adjust your approach based on others’ needs. Also ask them what level of detail they need if you are unsure. Don’t assume that everyone needs the same approach.

3 Responses to “What Do You Do When Co-Workers are Long-Winded?”

  • AMY KELSALL:

    Thanks Terry. These a great reminders to reflect upon often and with others in mind. Beginning with the end in mind is always a good thing and sometimes we forget to take the time to do so when going from one meeting to another.

  • Virg Setzer:

    Terry – excellent. Interesting you selected this topic to address, just this morning I coached a middle level manager who is pursuing a new opportunity and as I was preparing her for a key interview she demonstrated many of your long-winded symptoms. I helped her see and focus on how to handle her conversations more succinctly. Although I think I was effective, I wish I would have had your excellent guidance. Nicely done!

  • Nicely done Terry. I generally believe that the long winded come in two different flavors: 1) Those whose conversations ramble away from the subject to the point where you forget what the topic is. 2) Those who, when asked what time it is will tell you how to build a watch. In either case your message to watch for signals is critical, especially when you are or are conversing with an executive. Executives tend to be “bottom line” kind of people. If you don’t get there quick enough they will mentally tune you out and move on to the next issue.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Dave

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