Just about everyone knows someone that never got the memo on how to get to the point in conversations. I warmly reference these people in my mind as Watchmakers. Instead of giving you the time of day when you ask for it, they tell you in painful detail how to build the watch.
While command of detail is impressive, the need to share it with everyone that you come in contact with can be debilitating to your career. Bosses avoid opening even casual conversations, groups are hesitant to draw watchmakers into discussions and co-workers have been known to begin thinking of creative ways to extract themselves from your conversations, even as you are approaching.
Any Watchmakers in Your Life?
I come from a long family of digressers on one side of my family, and conversations with these wonderful people can be truly amazing adventures. You start out heading in one direction and 30-minutes later you’ve been on a verbal odyssey that completely doesn’t tie to the original point and has left you filled with new context and wondering how once again you managed to get lost. It’s a challenge and a bit of fun actually to try to nicely manage the conversation towards the original intent. At work however, this is just frustrating.
Unfortunately, most people that resemble my Watchmaker description don’t know that they communicate in this fashion, so it might pay to find someone you trust to be brutally honest with you and ask them about your communication style.
3 Tips to Learn to Tell the Time…Not How to Build the Watch:
Whether you are the Watchmaker in question or you manage one of these individuals, here are some tips for helping them do a better job staying on-point:
1. Help Watchmakers understand the importance of brevity in formal settings…especially with senior managers or customers. Ensure that you provide tangible examples that you’ve observed and tie this good feedback to business issues, personal and group effectiveness and performance.
2. Encourage pre-thinking of key points for planned, formal settings. I use a technique that I learned from a P.R. pro called message mapping. This can be done in a matter of minutes…and I use it constantly. Describe your core point in the center of the map…allow 4 branches for supporting points…and then each supporting point is allowed one or two branches for additional detail. The key of course to the message map is then to use it to make points and answer questions. While it takes some practice to perfect, this technique can truly help increase the relevance and impact of your brief points.
3. Learn to flip the switch. Learning to recognize impending communication situations and trigger the response of “OK, I need to make my key point and nothing more,” is a difficult but necessary habit to form. Perhaps it’s a bit of classical conditioning, but the best communicators run through this pre-event processing to determine what they will say and how they will conduct themselves. I’m convinced that this is something that can be learned and reinforced with help from an observant manager, mentor or friend.
While it’s difficult to change your core communication style, it is important to recognize the need in many circumstances for clarity and brevity. A college professor of mine always emphasized on exams that “brevity displays knowledge of the subject matter,” and those words have echoed in my mind ever since. Regale your family with stories and digress to your heart’s content around the kitchen table. But when it comes to work, get on-point, make and reinforce your point and then be quiet! Get good at this and you’ll actually create more opportunities to contribute!