Restraint like a pro


chop shop

I visited a friend last night who’s in the hospital. Long story short, he needs surgery on his leg. I wish we had a rave review to give, but the attending staff was less than professional. Everything his mom asked came up fruitless. Q’s: “What time is surgery? When can he return to work? What’s the aftercare? Will he get a cast?” Normal mom questions… A’s: “I mostly only deal with cancer.” And “I have no clue.” Or “Well, I assume they’ll do that. Probably, but maybe not.” After pressing, we finally got, “I’ll ask someone who knows.”


When it comes to communications, we Wordies tend to over-do it. If I say more, stronger and louder, my message will take. We’re all guilty of it. Saying too much. Adding. Even if we’re not sure… But it’s our job, right? To speak up. To advocate. To talk.

Think of any professional in any field. Any “pro.” Pros know when to use restraint. In baseball, players know when to walk. You don’t swing at every pitch that flies by. Is it a good pitch? Is it better to advance another runner on base? Is there a better pitch my way? Strategy. Think about great Italian cuisine. The Italians know the true meaning of “less is more.” It’s about cooking with the best ingredients. Only a few staples are necessary: some extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, pasta noodles (cooked al dente), perfect tomatoes, really that’s it. Some freshly cracked pepper and sea salt to finish. Yumm. It’s in the actual preparation and delivery that makes or breaks a dish. You don’t throw the whole kitchen sink in and call it delizioso. If you’ve listened to a song (nod your head yes, I hope),  you know how powerful silence can be. When the violin halts in the finale of a Tchaikovsky overture, or when there’s a pause and the bass finally drops in dubstep, you are moved. If an art collector went for every interesting piece of art, she wouldn’t really have a collection. I believe she’d be a hoarder. Pros use discretion. Restraint.

Nobody goes 100%, 100% of the time. Nobody has all the answers. But you can go 100% some of the time. It’s better than half-assing an answer. Think quality of communication, not quantity. Instead of hour-long meetings once a week, how about ten minute meetings bi-weekly? Or maybe there are meetings you can just scratch entirely. Emails too. Think critically about what you need to say, and how. And then say it- as concisely and clearly as you can. We should be continually refining our writing and speaking. If you’re a great communicator, you’re probably already doing this, so keep fighting the good fight.


Good designers know the value in white space on a page. While we, words people, fear it. We fear dead air time on the radio and voids in conversations. It’s just a thing we have. In reality, an amount of silence is healthy. The negative space is so important.

Just showing up and throwing in our $.05 doesn’t cut it. That’s lazy communication. Slack-jawing off. Whether you believe it or not, people listen to you. And respect your authority on your subject. So you talk pretty. So what? Make more space for listening. I promise, your communication reputation will be better for it if you take a little longer finding the right thing to say, even if it means saying, “I’m not sure, but I will find out.”


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