Cynthia called to describe a problem and to ask for advice. For the purpose of teaching her a principle, I used a stopwatch to time her call (not something I ordinarily do). When she had finished, I said, "You just described a single confusing situation, and you did it in four minutes and thirty seconds. Compared to most people, that's actually pretty brief. Keep in mind that I'm not criticizing you. Would you like to hear me describe the problem you just shared with me?"
"I'll speak as though I were you, talking to me: 'My ex-boyfriend found something of mine in his apartment, and he wants to return it. I'm conflicted, because part of me wants to see him, but I also know that seeing him isn't good for me.' How long did it take me to say that?"
"I don't know."
"Eleven seconds. Did my description leave anything out that really matters?"
"Eleven seconds, compared with your four and a half minutes. The problem is NOT that I mind listening to you for that long--happy to listen to you--but you get lost in all the words. You say so many words that you distract yourself and can't see the situation clearly."
Most of us say too little in too many words. We get lost in the woods of our own words, and the people listening tend to get lost with us. We can help ourselves by being a little more aware of what we say—before we speak and after. As we thin out the trees we don't need, we can find our way out of the woods and see more clearly where we are and where we want to go.