Last week, I was working out at Long Island’s “CrossFit, The Rock” and trying hard not to be noticed. Compared to much of their clientele (firefighters, football pros, mixed marshal artists), I am far from impressive. So I like to hang out in the back corner of the “box” (CrossFit-speak for “gym”), plowing through my workout, trying not to cry or die.
But today, I saw a relative newbie who looked kind of like me (read: average) squat an enormous amount of weight. I was stunned: how could someone so “regular” do something so impressive? I wanted to tell her that I was in awe. I wanted her to know that she was an inspiration. I wanted to know that I would be thinking about that squat for a long time.
What I said out loud was: “Wow.”
That’s it. Just one word.
She heard it, and smiled. “Thanks!” she replied. And then went back to squatting the equivalent of a Smart Car.
I’m pretty sure I made her day, as much as she made mine. With just one word.
Rabbi Moses Ibn Ezra once commented: “Let your words be simple, that they need no interpreting; and let their meaning be understood, that they need no proof.”
One word can do all that. And one word alone can be extremely powerful. When your child falls, and you pick him up and say, “ouch!” that one word shows empathy, compassion and understanding. Anyone who has ever had the word “cancer” said to her knows that life is fundamentally difference before that word, and after it. If you’ve ever worked in an office where someone whispered, “layoffs” across the cubicle farm, you’ve felt the panic that rises from a single word. In the Broadway musical Cabaret, two characters in love sing,
“How the world can change,
It can change like that!
Due to one little word:
If Rudyard Kipling was correct in writing, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind,” then most of us are junkies. While there are countless studies that contend that women out-talk men by more than 13,000 words a day, other studies show that men and women are equal-opportunity chatters, averaging about 16,000 words per day.
But whether you’re a big talker or a small talker (or a low talker or a high talker, as we learned from Seinfeld), you may be talking too much. One of the leading reasons why we over-talk is that we under-listen. Face it: we typically spend so much time rehearsing what we’re going to say while the other person is speaking that when it’s our turn to talk, our responses may be irrelevant, disjointed and disconnected. So we keep going…and going…and going, until we feel we’ve made our point.
All of that talking is costing us time, productivity and energy, and being victimized by everyone else’s babble is costing us, too. But over-talking isn’t just a time-waster – it’s a credibility-killer. People who go on and on appear to undervalue others’ contributions, lack self-awareness, and seem self-absorbed and nervous. (Probably not the look you’re going for, right?)
When it comes to talking, I bring two perspectives: one as a professional speaker and the other as a coach. As a speaker, I am paid to speak. But I’m not paid by the word (you’re welcome). I’m paid to be highly selective about the words I choose to educate, motivate and inspire. Too many words and my message gets lost in the noise. Too few and I don’t achieve my goals, or those of the company that hired me.
As a coach, I am paid to listen, and listen actively. So that means that the words I use need to reflect what I am hearing, what I am not hearing, and delve more deeply into what my client thinks, feels and wants to do to move forward. My words are often their words, mirrored or paraphrased back to them. And when I do get to bring my own words into the mix, they need to be direct, clear and concise. Unlike in my role as a professional speaker, the stage isn’t mine. As a coach, I’m in the audience, and as an audience member, I need to choose my words selectively.
Talking less isn’t the only way to save time. Listening more often, more deeply, more actively and without distraction can help you get to the crux of the matter much more quickly than traditional problem-solving approaches (i.e. “let me tell you what to do”) can. And if you’re listening well, you don’t need a lot of words to show that you’re engaged and attentive.
Here are some short phrases that say or ask a lot with very little:
· By when?
· So what?
· Now what?
· Then what?
· Got it.
Thomas Jefferson once mused, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” Try listening more than speaking, and speaking clearly, concisely and compactly when you do. It will save you time, make you sound more confident and professional, and serve as a model for others around you, too.