Speak Less, Accomplish More: How to Use Fewer Words to Become a Better Communicator

Good communication skills are important for everyone. You need them to build and maintain quality relationships, and to achieve your goals in educational or career settings.

In verbal communication, you should never confuse quantity with effectiveness. In fact, speaking too much can be counterproductive. Words can lose their impact when they’re unleashed in a flood, based on the resistance they provoke and the one-sided nature of the social interaction.

No matter your personality type, whether you’re an Extravert who holds nothing back, or an Introvert overcompensating for occasional reticence, dialing back on the verbiage could be your ticket to a happier and more productive life.

How Extraverts speak 

Extraverts tend to think and speak simultaneously. ‘Thinking out loud’ is normal for them, and they’re able to process information and formulate ideas more effectively if they can verbally express what is going on inside their heads.

The Extravert’s approach to verbal communication is generally effective. They create good first impressions and attract others with their openness, friendliness, charisma, and enthusiasm.

But those initial good impressions will only carry them so far, especially if they’ve developed the habit of talking too much. This isn’t a universal result, but it is a trap that some Extraverts may be unable to avoid.

If you’re an Extravert, others may appreciate your outgoing personality, yet privately express great frustration over your communication style. If you’ve fallen into the ‘stream of consciousness’ talking trap, you may be guilty of frequent circumlocution, which means you’re overly wordy and take a long time to get to the point. 

Others may find it hard to follow you, or struggle to stay focused when you’re speaking. You may also alienate them if it seems like you talk more than you listen, turning your conversations into lectures rather than dialogues.

What about Introverts?

Introverts take time to think about what they’re going to say before saying it. But surprisingly, they can struggle to be concise in their verbal communications as well.

Because they process things internally before speaking, Introverts may sink into self-absorption, meaning they’re too preoccupied by their own thoughts to closely listen to others as they’re speaking. This compromises their listening practices, and they may end up misreading what other people want and end up offering too much information—or the wrong information—as a  result.

Introverts may also try too hard to overcome what they perceive as their own limitations. They may talk too much to prove they can be as expressive or effusive as Extraverts, possibly emulating Extraverts they see as more successful. This is unnatural behavior, however, and their efforts to make a good impression by imitating Extraverts are likely to backfire.

For Extraverts and Introverts alike, restraining the urge to speak too much or too often can improve their performance as communicators.

The science of listening and comprehension

In listening comprehension, neurology favors the concise. According to research from Microsoft, the human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds today.  

This decline is undoubtedly a side effect of our constant immersion in digital communications, where sounds, images, and messages flash by at higher and higher speeds.  But the vital fact, from your perspective, is that you have just eight seconds to capture your listener’s attention before their focus starts to drift. And you’ll have to say something compelling within each successive eight second window as well, to maintain the audience’s attention after you’ve captured it.

Needless to say, brevity is essential. If you want others to view your words as important and meaningful, you must be concise, clear, and on point, right from the start. You have to win your listeners’ attention over and over again throughout your conversation or presentation, and that’s much easier to do if you’re not overwhelming them with inessential and uninteresting verbiage.

Seven Valuable Tips for Improving Your Verbal Communication Skills

The more impact your words make, the fewer of them you’ll have to use. That is a relatively straightforward concept.

But it may go against your ingrained habits. If you’re a gregarious Extravert or an overcompensating Introvert, you may be relying too much on your cultivated gift of gab to win friends and influence people.

Fortunately, this is not an insurmountable problem. You can modify your approach to increase your effectiveness as a verbal communicator, during intimate encounters or when speaking in front of groups.

Here's how to do it …

#1 Stop over-explaining

Too often, overconfident Extraverts and insecure Introverts will attempt to anticipate every possible doubt, uncertainty, or confusion their listeners conversational partners might have. To make sure everything is covered, they will unload a torrent of verbiage designed to eliminate any possibility of misinterpretation or misunderstanding.

But this is counterproductive. Many listeners will be annoyed hearing questions answered that they never considered asking. They will begin checking their watches, wondering how much longer you plan to drone on.

In general, it’s much better to introduce your ideas succinctly, giving your audience the benefit of the doubt. As long as you signal your openness to further discussion, your listeners won’t be afraid to ask questions if your brevity has left a few details unclear.

#2 Don’t make others defensive

This is one of the most crucial principles of effective communication. If you’re motivated by a need to defend yourself, or provoke the same feelings in others, your conversations will go on and on because very little listening will occur. You’ll go off on finger-pointing detours and become trapped in conversational cul-de-sacs that lead nowhere. No minds will be changed, no agreements will be reached, and all of your efforts to cajole or persuade will be wasted.

In every instance, your approach to dialogue should be constructive and positive. People want to learn and improve, and will pay close attention if they sense you’re on their side and are only trying to be helpful.  You won’t have to say as much, and the words you do use will be more effective, since you’ll be greeted with acceptance rather than resistance.

#3 Become an expert on body language

People don’t communicate solely through speech. They also communicate through gestures, facial expressions, posture, movements, and the positioning of their legs and arms.

You should learn to closely observe these nonverbal signals with the help of books, articles, or videos that will show you how to interpret body language. When you see signs of impatience, confusion, boredom, or distraction, you’ll know that you’re speaking too much and/or wasting your time with words that aren’t connecting. You can then make adjustments on the fly, cutting down on your wordplay in order to make a better impression.

#4 Practice until you get it right

Because Extraverts tend to think out loud, their performance in school, in the workplace, or at other public meeting places may be littered with non sequiturs and unnecessary meanderings. This will be especially true if they’re asked to speak extemporaneously, or required to answer questions following a formal presentation.

One good way to overcome this tendency is to practice speeches, presentations, or important conversations ahead of time, with the help of friends or family members. During these rehearsals, which would be based on real-life scenarios you’ve faced in the past or anticipate facing in the future, you would strive to sharpen your message and streamline your approach as much as possible.

By completing the “thinking it through” stage in a controlled environment, you’ll gradually overcome your habit of talking too much in situations where doing so can dilute the impact of your performance.  

#5 Eliminate crutch words from your spoken vocabulary

Most people use ‘crutch words’ to fill in gaps in their speech. Crutch words are adverbs, adjectives, interjections, modifiers, buzzwords, or favorite phrases that are used excessively and repetitively, added to speech without conscious thought. They add nothing to communication, but can interrupt its flow and prevent you from speaking precisely and succinctly.

You won’t notice how many crutch words or phrases you use until you begin monitoring your own speech. If and when you identify them, you should make a concerted effort to eliminate them from your spoken vocabulary. This won’t be easy, but if you’re successful you’ll become a more concise and effective communicator, focused on getting straight to the point.

#6 Sharpen your listening skills

Good listening is like anything else. It takes practice to do it well, and speaking too much will definitely interfere with your development of this ability.

With Extraverts, problems come when they take up too much of the conversational load, making it difficult for the other participant to express themselves fully and completely. Introverts run into trouble because they often get distracted by trying to think of what to say next, meaning they’re focused on themselves rather than what the other person is saying, causing them to miss important details.

In conversation, poor listening impacts the quality of the responses. If you truly listen to what the other person is saying, with a quiet mind and an even quieter tongue, you’ll receive the guidance you need to take the conversation in the most relevant direction. This will add focus to your responses, cutting their word density and helping preserve the successful give-and-take that defines true dialogue.

#7 Replace opinions with questions

One of the surest ways to become a more effective communicator is to ask questions. This is especially effective if you substitute questions for opinions.

When you pontificate endlessly about every topic, people get the impression you’re talking at them instead of with them. These situations provide the classic example of how talking too much can undermine your efforts to make meaningful connections with other people.

If the other person knows as much or more about the topic under discussion as you do, asking questions will let them know that you value their knowledge and input. Then, when you do give your opinions, they will be listened to and taken seriously—as long as they’re not offered in the form of long-winded monologues.

Unleashing the power of the unspoken word!

Effective speech is dense with meaning. It captures the attention of the listener quickly and imparts important or interesting information in each sentence. Fluff is eliminated, side trips are avoided, and irrelevant anecdotes are scuttled, as the speaker’s focus remains on the topic rather than on themselves.

In social, interpersonal, work-related, or formal speaking environments, keeping it brief but on point will put listeners in a receptive state of mind. The thoughts and emotions you share will be heard and appreciated, and your overall effectiveness as a communicator will increase dramatically.

Nathan Falde

Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.

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