Most of us are literally buried in information these days. So when someone is brief and to the point, it actually feels good. Some experts even tell us that brevity is critical for leaders.

But what happens when a good focus on brevity turns into an obsession with sound bytes?

After all, sound bytes do satisfy our need for brevity, are inherently catchy, and because they are often emotionally based, they resonate and rise above the noise.

On the flip side, some argue that speaking in sound bytes is dangerous.

Do we know what the sound byte means? Does it mean anything at all? Are we becoming conditioned to not even ask?

A Marketing colleague of mine frequently jokes that "...it's all marketing these days."

I usually respond flippantly with my favorite Fletch quote telling him that I think that "...it's all ball bearings these days."

My bad attempt at movie quote humor aside, his point is that our focus today often seems to favor form over function. Specifically regarding sound bytes, there are problems with using a sound byte that captures our emotions without acknowledging everything around the sound byte.

Here are three reasons to stop speaking in sound bytes and what to do differently:

1. Sound bytes are sticky but lack substance people need to do the work

"Make America great again" may have been the most pervasive sound byte from the last year. Whether you were a Trump supporter or fought against him, it was a big part of what won him the Presidency. People felt emotionally connected to the sound byte and bought into it even without a significant amount of detail behind it.

Details are still important in business, though, even when you are restricted to 160 characters. Once the emotional hype of any given sound byte goes away, work actually has to be done. That is where the details come into play.

If you can couple the sound byte with just the right amount of details, the sound byte can actually become an operational reality. Without the details, it could just become the sound byte of the day.

2. Context matters

I recently read a sound byte from Odell Beckham Jr., the talented but embattled NFL wide receiver for the New York Giants who has been notorious for publicly complaining about the referees. The sound byte came after a game the Giants lost where Odell made another quip about a referee.

The sports news was all over the quip declaring that once again Odell had blamed the referees for his sub-optimal performance.

Only a few people highlighted the fact that the sound byte was taken out of context. When you read the rest of the interview, the meaning of what Odell said was totally different.

Ironically, he was not complaining, but you needed to understand what he had said before and after the sound byte to know that.

Unfortunately, our obsession with sound bytes has made us less inclined to care about context.

As business leaders, context around the sound byte is really important. It reduces the potential for the sound byte to take on a life of its own taking employees down misdirected paths, which have to be undone at some point.

To prevent this, focus on providing even just a little context around the sound byte.

3. Diverging from the truth to be catchy can damage credibility

Today, we are in a competition for catch phrase "catchiness." As a result, our sound bytes get more and more outrageous. As we get more outrageous, the question is whether we end up straying from the truth.

This isn't to say that all sound bytes lack truth, but unfortunately we might find that many do if we were to subject them to Presidential debate style fact checks.

If you use a sound byte, make sure that it doesn't detach from the truth. Whereas it may not have immediate implications, credibility is at stake.

Over time, if sound byte after sound byte prove to be lacking truth behind them, employees will eventually start to tune them out. They'll tune you out as well.

I like a good sound byte as much as they next guy, but make sure your sound byte provides more than a sticky catch phrase with little behind it. Your people will appreciate the context, substance, and details which will actually make the sound byte actionable.

So here's my quippy sound byte to end this article about sound bytes:

"Inc.com contributing author uses sound byte to kill the sound byte."

Published on: Dec 13, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.