The Power of Brevity



Brevity Photo Corsica flowerpot on window ledgebrevity1

Recently, I came across a couple different articles focused on the value of brevity. Ty Hall wrote a piece called “Be brief” on the Profiles International Workplace 101 blog, and brevity expert Joseph McCormack, author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less and founder of The BRIEF lab, wrote a guest editorial in the August 2014 Chief Learning Officer magazine entitled Listen Fast and Learn.


These pieces reminded me of a word that a leadership guru friend of mine, who is an executive coach and founder of Radical Leadership, Therese Kienast, taught me some years ago: bottom-lining. She used it as a verb because it is something you do. It means get to the point.


Last week I was in a management class where we practiced coaching and giving feedback. The WAIT (Why Am I Talking?) model – a simple tool for listening more and talking less – was one of the tools presented. As we completed our role-plays, I was amazed at what was possible when whoever was speaking was intentional about what they were saying and focused on what was going on for the other person.

brevity4I spend a lot of time in meetings as part of my job, and I’ve noticed I how much better I feel when a meeting is over and I’ve done more listening than talking. Finding the balance of taking responsibility for sharing and opening up to the other person’s perspective is somewhat of an art that takes regular practice.


Why is there such power when we cut out the ‘blah, blah, blah’? A quick scan of the statistics from Joseph McCormack’s article makes it pretty clear. In a world where most people have an 8-second attention span and tune you out if you don’t get to your point in half a minute, it seems pretty darn important to say what you have to say in the shortest, most direct, and powerful way. Joseph McCormack recommends simplifying complexity and packaging information into small, bite-size packages. Think of it as speaking in headlines.

brevity6Mark Twain’s quote brings home the point that it takes effort to be crisp in our communications. Time is required to thoughtfully carve ideas into their simplest and richest nuggets and polish them so they are meaningful for others.

What do you do when you don’t have the luxury of time? I start by pausing, just a few seconds even, to take a deep breath and connect with myself. When I am intentional, authentic, and open, I set myself up for the crispness I’m after. When I know why I’m sharing what I’m sharing and with whom I’m sharing, my impact improves.


I’m hoping that working my brevity muscle will save me time to accomplish more. What if I could shorten my meetings, reduce time writing emails, support swifter decisions, open opportunities, and engage others by being brief. Definitely worth of some practice. Game on.  



* Photo taken in Piana, Corsica, 2007


Author: Vicki L Flaherty

I am most alive when I am creating, whether through writing, gardening, photography, cooking, crafting, sewing... Running and yoga enrich my being. I am happiest when I’m with my husband Jim. Travel opens me to new possibilities and greater awareness. I find a special joy when I’ve helped someone see their brilliance and express their full potential. As I've focused on living more mindfully, I've found special joy in expressing myself through poetry and photography, and in truly being in relationship with those I meet along my journey.

12 thoughts on “The Power of Brevity”

  1. Excellent message, Vicki. And briefly stated, too! [I know how hard it is to do that on a blog!]

    I am going to be sharing this with several people at work, so I hope you get lots of new and interested parties attracted to following your page.

    Cheers! And keep up the good work!

  2. Hi Vicki, this is definitely one of my challenges! I often write emails and then take the last 1 or 2 sentences and put them at the front, letting the reader read more if they wish. I also see that it can be a lack of self-confidence why people talk more than necessary, or it could be they are comfortable being specific and detailed while, others lean to simplicity and the big picture. My favourite tool for brief and effective meetings is Dr. Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats. Great post … I enjoyed reading it and the good advice contained within.

  3. I am shocked at the attention decline, yet I can sense that I have fallen into it as well. I tune out of meetings the moment someone blathers on. Thanks for sharing such an important communications post, and indeed, it is worthy of practice.

    1. Blathering on .. Maureen, where do that one come from .. ??
      But I have to agree there are so many business people out there who love to hear their own voice .. and also those that write the long emails to say something small .. and those that cc the world just because they want to be known. With brevity many of us could work a shorter ( normal! ) day.. Roll on that day .. gb

  4. Great Article , I love the idea of combining equanimity and brevity. Also, it seems that more and more we have to actively cultivate focus and rebuild our listening muscles as everything in this connected world calls out for our attention.


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