So, here goes...
How economic and precise are you with words? Do you speak as well as you write? How can you become more efficient and effective with the spoken word?
When it comes to writing well, I was taught to use the acronym LSD, which stands for ‘lucid, short and direct’. These words have long been at the forefront of my mind every time I start tapping on the keyboard or pick up a pen. Succinctness is a skill, a habit that takes time to form. You will recall the famous apology from Winston Churchill who began a letter by writing: ‘I am sorry this letter is so long, but I haven’t the time to write a short one.’
The concept of ‘Bottom-lining’ can be used in meetings in order to get to the point of a discussion quicker. Bottom-lining is defined as the skill of brevity and succinctness and getting to the essence of your communication rather than engaging in long descriptive stories.
We have all seen them before – the long talkers. They are often social, well-meaning, happy people who tend to process out loud, and talk in stories. While these people are often well liked and their long-talking nature is tolerated by most, the problem is that they are not as effective as they could be. They are taking up way too much precious time, theirs and yours, getting to their point. In seeking to perform at the highest level possible and to be more effective, a skill to develop is bottom lining, especially if you are a ‘long talker’.
Typically, the term, bottom line, refers to the last line on an income statement, a company’s profit or loss. However, you often hear the term used more colloquially (e.g. “The bottom line is this:….”). In this context, the bottom line refers to the essence of the story or the final result.
The skill of bottom lining is conveying the essence of the story, without going through all the messy details first. It’s likely that the average long talker does so because they haven’t processed through the story to get to their own conclusion. They haven’t yet made meaning of it. If you have plenty of time, and the story is highly emotional, helping someone process can be a valuable gift. And most often, that’s not what we do in the workplace.
Teaching bottom lining can save everyone time and even add meaning to previously unmeaningful, tedious conversations. Start by introducing bottom lining in a neutral setting, like in your regular one to one with the long talker. You can start by saying something like ‘I’ve noticed that some of our conversations can take quite a bit of time and that it takes a while before we are able to identify an action to take. I’d like to talk with you about the skill of bottom lining that I think will help both of us be more effective. From time to time, when our conversations get long and detailed, I’ll ask you to “bottom line” it for me. That means I’d like to hear the essence of the issue, without the story, so that we can decide what to do about it.’
Once you’ve introduced your colleague to bottom lining, you can use it by asking them to bottom line their stories. If they are having trouble getting to it, here are a few additional questions you can ask, ‘What was the meaning you made from this?” “What’s the nugget you got from this?’
One of the CEOs I sat on a board with, used to start every report with his BLUF, ‘Bottom Line Up Front’. We immediately knew what was the meat of the discussion and through our discussion we could collectively apply a laser focus to it.
So, bottom-line to improve your bottom line.