TEAM BUILDING

5 Tips to Help a Valuable Employee Become Less Long-Winded

Here's what to do when your previous efforts have failed.

photo by Mark A. Coleman

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Alison Green, author of the Ask a Manager blog, recently fielded this question from a reader:

I have an employee who is extremely detailed in every way. This can be great in some cases, but whenever she speaks (in a meeting or just one-on-one), she is extremely long-winded. She will generally say the same thing in three different ways and then summarize again. Her e-mails and written projects are novels. . . . Do you have any advice?

Green replied with five fantastic tips for helping an employee keep things brief. Here are excerpts from the first three--and we strongly suggest that you to visit her blog to read all five.

1. Sit down with her and say that you want to have a serious conversation about a work habit.
"I know you've talked with her about this before, but because it didn't have a lasting impact, it's time for another conversation, and this one has to feel more serious, so that it's clear to her that you're not just making suggestions or giving offhand advice," Green writes.

2. Give her specific guidelines. 
"It's not enough just to say 'keep things shorter,' because her calibration meter in this regard is off," Green notes. "She can't tell when something is too long. So you need to spell it out much more specifically. For example, you might tell her that no memo should be longer than one page and that they should be primarily written in bullet points, no email should be more than three short paragraphs, presentations should be no longer than X minutes, and she should observe how long others speak at meetings and speak no longer than that herself."

3. Coach her actively on this going forward. 
"For instance, when you assign her a written project, give her a maximum page count at the outset. If she's concerned that she won't be able to include all the information she thinks should be included, talk through her thought process. As you hear what she's worried won't fit in, explain to her why X is important to include but Y isn't," Green writes. "And explain to her--explicitly--that higher-level decision makers . . . specifically don't want all the information. They want high-level conclusions and takeaways, and to be able to trust that that's been backed up by thought and research before it came to them so that they don't have to spend their time on that part."

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Last updated: Jul 15, 2013

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The Build Network staff curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.




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