Just the Facts, Ma'am

Great leadership advice can come from unlikely places, and to that list I'd add Detective Sgt. Joe Friday from the old Dragnet television show.  When interviewing witnesses to a crime, Friday would keep the interviewee on track by saying, "Just the facts, ma'am."  (I don't recall a similar line when Friday interviewed men, but that's a topic for another day.)  Whether you're a sir or ma'am, the message of "just the facts, ma'am" reminds us to keep our focus and not dilute our power by over explaining ourselves. Often we waste words when we are unsure of ourselves or feel we have something to prove.  Rather than simply stating what we want or think, we bury our message in excess words either before or after our main point.  In so doing, we turn our fears into reality; we come across as unsure and insecure, and may leave others with a lesser impression of ourselves.

Are the two examples of diluted speech below familiar to you?

"So, I was thinking last night... tell me what you think about this... maybe you'll disagree with me... but I think we should include Dick and Jane in the meeting tomorrow."

"I think we should invite Dick and Jane to the meeting tomorrow.  I was out to dinner with my family last night and the topic of inclusivity came up because we were talking about whom to invite to my daughter's wedding.  My wife said she didn't think we needed to invite second cousins and that triggered the conversation."

The problem with the first example is we don't need to invite others to think or disagree before they even know what our point is.  The problem with the second example is the long-winded, unrelated description of the situation in which the conclusion was reached.  In both scenarios, the strong statement of inviting Dick and Jane to the meeting gets diluted in excess verbiage.

Compare the above two statements with the strength of the following:

"I think we should include Dick and Jane in the meeting.  I gave it a lot of thought and both of them bring a unique cultural perspective to the table."

This statement is clear and concise.  The listener doesn't have to work hard to decipher the speaker's message.

You can take several steps today toward making your statements powerful and compelling:

1. Practice.  Stand in front of a mirror and say your messageout loud.  You may feel silly at first, but you'll get over it.

2. Role-play.  Recruit a colleague, friend or family member to take on the role of your listener(s).  I frequently role-play with my clients to help them fine-tune their thoughts, hone their message, and anticipate feedback.

3. Breathe.  Sounds simple and automatic, but when we get nervous, our breaths get shorter and quicker.  Take slow deep breaths to calm down.  With every breath, feel your bottom in the chair and your feet on the floor.  This will anchor you and allow you to speak with greater conviction.

Like most things in life, sticking to "just the facts, ma'am" takes practice and time.  Remember, you're not aiming for perfection (see 1/12/07 post).  Your goal is to be clearly heard and your opinions respected.

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