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Note to Self: Use Fewer, Better Words


Nick Wilkinson is a project manager and has some tough love for his past, wordy self: if you want people to start listening to you, stop talking so much. This is the advice he wishes he could send back in time to stop those cringeworthy team discussions before they ever happened.

Hey. Nick from 2006? This is your future self. I know I'm interrupting your team meeting right now, but: you talk too much.

You use too many words when you speak, and it's a problem. Your team doesn't know what you're talking about right now and they're obviously affected by it—see those thousand-yard stares and the absent-minded pen twiddling? You've lost them and you're wasting everyone's time now.

In fact, Bryce is about to interrupt you and derail the conversation because he feels you've lost your grip on the situation. Also, he's kind of an asshole.

But asshole or not, people will stop paying attention to you if you're constantly forcing them to decide whether each new thing you say should be remembered or ignored. Sooner or later enough noise builds up, they get tired, and cut in or tune out.

But, you're just providing context and being thorough!

I get it—you want to transfer your understanding of the situation from your brain to theirs. You're hoping more information will result in better decisions and more effective coordination. 

It won’t.

If you can't cut to what's most important when sharing information with your team, why would you expect them to come away with a clear and consistent understanding of your message?

You had selfies in 2006, right?

So think of it this way: when you send your photo to someone, do you give them a 20MB RAW file or a 100KB JPG? Right. People don't need all the detail in that RAW file to understand what's going on in the image. That JPG is compressed—same message but way less info. What's the least amount of information needed to convey that image?

Now do that with words and your mouth.

It's going to take practice.

I know none of this comes easily to you, so here's some guidance. When you're project managing, speak in bullet points:

         • One idea per sentence.

         • Each sentence should flow logically from the previous one.

         • Each idea should be no longer than a tweet. 

I know you don't know what Twitter is yet in 2006. Look it up. 

The good news:

Everything you need for this is already within you. I know you can hear that true voice inside that wants to get out. Just stay focused on chiseling away the excess to reveal that beautiful, perfect message about your budget update or whatever. You got this. 

 

Like many young boys growing up in rural British Columbia, Nick Wilkinson dreamed of one day becoming a Project Manager. In 2001, his wish came true. Since then he's managed projects for NASA, the Canadian Armed Forces, the UN, the World Bank, small businesses, and not-for-profits. He blogs at thereluctantpm.com and he tweets from @reluctantpm

Photo by Štefan Štefančík