If you’ve ever attended one of my programs, you may have heard me share the importance of communicating succinctly. Or, as I phrase it: “Say it in a sentence.” If you know me well (especially after a glass of wine), you also know this is something I’ve not mastered.
In her bestseller Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg tells a story about her boss, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that beautifully illustrates Sheryl’s advice that “when communicating hard truths, less is often more.”
Mark decided to learn Chinese, so to practice, he spent time with Facebook employees who were native speakers. Not only did he improve his language skills, he also gained insight into what was going on within the company.
“One of the women,” Sheryl writes, “was trying to tell Mark something about her manager.” But Mark didn’t understand, so he asked her to simplify what she was saying. She spoke again, and again, he asked her to use simpler terms. After a few more rounds of this, the frustrated woman, still speaking Chinese, blurted out, “My manager is bad!” Mark understood.
“If more people were this clear,” Sandberg concludes, “the performance of many organizations would improve dramatically.”
Now I’m not asking you to blurt out your truth in the same way, but too often when we need to share news that isn’t glowing, we skirt the issue. Instead answer the question in a sentence. “Yes, I find it challenging to work with my supervisor, and I’d be happy to provide examples.”
When you’re asked a question, answer it in a sentence, before launching into a story or explanation. And remember, there’s a difference between being succinct and being abrupt. It’s all in the tone of voice and the mannerisms. So when communicating, especially when speaking the hard truths, do so with gentle honesty.