When we picture ourselves captivating an audience at a party, we envision people crowded around laughing at punchlines and nodding their heads in agreement with our intelligent arguments. Unfortunately, sometimes these grand plans fall short. Laughter may not come quite when or where we intend or heads nod more from boredom than understanding. If we want to avoid the blank stares that come at the end of ineffective speaking, there is a very precise solution. Keep it short, and allow those listening interact before adding more.
Evidence shows that while the mind picks up a substantial amount of information, much of it is stored in the harder to access long-term memory, so limited amounts are available for immediate use. Specifically, the typical mind can hold four pieces of information for thirty seconds. So when you’re rambling on for hours, hashing out all the details of an ingenious plan or explaining the minutiae of your date night, there’s a great chance that your audience isn’t comprehending what you want them to.
The solution is simple, but it takes a concerted effort and eight weeks of practice. Only speak for twenty to thirty seconds at maximum, limiting yourself to two sentences. This does a few things. First, it limits the information you give to only the most important. This way, the superfluous details are left out and can’t distract from your main point.
Second, it allows the listener to comprehend everything you say. When they respond, you can see if they understood what you were trying to say, and they can ask for clarification on what wasn’t clear. If you need to relay essential information, break it up even more into ten-second pieces. Once you have feedback, you can continue and/or respond to their message.
The third thing it does is limit negativity. In conflicts, we can work ourselves up when we have complete freedom to ramble on about everything that we aren’t happy with. By condensing our communication, we force ourselves to leave out negative emotions, which, just like other emotions, are reinforced and deepened the more we vocalize them.
The twenty-second, two-sentence technique is part of the “Compassionate Communication” strategy developed by Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, experts in the medical research and executive communication fields, respectively. Their communication techniques are tested and supported so much that many corporations and businesses integrate brevity in communication into their culture. Some CEOs require important information or questions be submitted on index cards. Others meet for morning meetings and give each department head one sentence to relay information from their department. Though succinct speaking techniques are utilized in the business environment, they are supported in all aspects of communication.
This one communication tactic can deepen understanding and decrease conflict in romantic relationships if each partner participates. When we limit our communication to short periods of talking and interested spans of listening, we control what messages we send, understand how they are received, and strengthen the connection between ourselves and our audience.