How Twitter Forced Me To Be A Better Communicator

Twitter is like a straight jacket for the verbose and long winded writer. I never thought myself to be such until Twitter came along. You have to fit your entire message in 140 characters. This isn't just a word count limit. No! Those 140 characters include spaces and punctuation. 

When I first joined the Twitter Universe or "Twitterverse" I wanted to compose profound, funny, or deep tweets. I just didn't want to tweet about my breakfast choices. 

I wanted my tweets to get retweeted, favorited, and comments. I sat down to compose my first tweet. What would I say? I had a thought. I began typing. I felt the inspiration flowing through my finger tips.

Oh this is going to be good, I thought. After I was finished, I looked at my message.

This is brilliant!

This is profound!

This is....31 characters over the tweet limit?!?!

I was upset. How dare Twitter force me to dilute my genius to only 140 characters? I was upset and gave up on Twitter. 

It wasn't until I was coaching one of my clients that the lesson of Twitter became painfully clear.

I was working with a leader who was frustrated. Her employee was habitually late and after multiple conversations she didn't think her message was getting across. In our session, I asked her to tell me verbatim what she said to him when she mentioned his tardiness. She said, 

"Hey Frank, I wanted to talk to you about something. But don't think you are in trouble or anything. I mean I don't want to harp on you about this because it isn't really that big of a deal. I am not sure what has been going on with you lately. But you've been coming in a little late and I know your girls have been sick but it would really kind of be helpful if you could try to maybe get here on time. Like I said I don't want to come across nagging or anything and it really isn't a big deal but I just had to bring it up. Okay?"

No wonder her message wasn't getting across. It got lost in the sheer number of words. Her statement was about 390 twitter characters and 113 words. She and worked to together to streamline her message.

My job as coach is to ask questions that point out hindrances to communication effectiveness. I told her she had to do three things:

1. Figure out the message she wanted to convey,

What was she wanting to say? Did she want to tell Frank to stop coming in late? Did she want to tell Frank that the occasional lateness is fine? Did she want to tell Frank she hope his daughters get better? She wasn't sure of her message either. It turns out she wanted to tell Frank to stop coming in late because his tardiness prevented the previous shift from leaving on time.

2. Only choose the words that best convey that message.

We then stream lined her message. Because she knew Frank and his family, she wanted to show him that she was an understanding supervisor. She doesn't want to be a leader who is anti-family. So all those desires mixed into the conversation about lateness and made her message complicated. We stripped away anything that did not have to do with the message she wanted to hear.

3. Then stop talking. 

This was the hardest step. After crafting her concise message, her next obstacle was to stop talking. She realized she had been filling her discomfort with words.  She was nervous, so she spoke more. She was anxious, so she spoke more. She was worried how Frank would react, so she spoke more. We got her to a place of handling her anxiety without diluting her message.

After our coaching session that day, I realized my Twitter experience was a similar learning opportunity. Twitter was forcing me to become a clear concise communicator and I didn't like it!

I had to get very clear about what I wanted my message to be. Then use only the shortest, simplest words to convey my message. And finally, resist the urge to fill the "space" with more rambling.

I went back to my profound, deep, 171 character tweet and started working on it. Stripping it down until the message was clear to me and to my audience. The result was a 31 character tweet. 

Though that tweet never did get the re-tweet, favorite, or comments I had hoped, it taught something much more lasting. The greatest communication is clear and simple.

Do you tend to use more words than necessary? Why?

Follow me on Twitter @BraveCommLLC

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