I have made what may be one of the world’s seventeen greatest discoveries. It is this: “Always keep it short and to the point.” You may disagree, citing Robert Southey who said, “It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn,” or Shakespeare who promised in Hamlet, “Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief.”
Of course you are not questioning my point, just my assertion that I personally made the discovery. Naturally, I know that Baltasar Gracián said that “Good things, when short, are twice as good.,” in The Art of Worldly Wisdom; and Thomas Jefferson said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
These great minds along with many others counsel us to be concise and not impose on the patience of anyone when we can avoid it. They have mostly intended their advice for the written word. For example, Lord Sandwich advised, “If any man will draw up his case, and put his name at the foot of the first page, I will give him an immediate reply. Where he compels me to turn over
the sheet, he must wait my leisure.”
Or even more expansively and intending his point for every-day conversation, Mozart reported this, “My great-grandfather used to say to his wife, my great-grandmother, who in turn told her daughter, my grandmother, who repeated it to her daughter, my
mother, who used to remind her daughter, my own sister, that to talk well and eloquently was a very great art, but that an equally great one was to know
the right moment to stop.”
Dennis Roth made the same point but even briefer, “If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought;” and David Belasco was even more pithy, “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.” The point is whether writing or talking, don’t be who Rabelais was talking about when he said, “He replies nothing but monosyllables. I believe he would make three bites of a cherry.” William Strunk Jr.cut to the chace for us, “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” Just omit whatever is not necessarily necessary.
That brings me back to my great discovery. Yes, I am still saying that it is my discovery, even though others have argued for brevity and conciseness long before I ever had a useful thought. Here is the discovery part of my discovery.
Whenever anyone starts to argue with whatever you have said or done, always keep it short and to the point. You will be tempted to reciprocate with a counter-argument, further explanation or justification, but there is seldom any point to the effort. Winning arguments is most always a futile hope. Instead, calmly wait until the other person has stopped pressing their argument – and they will stop sooner or later. At that point, simply say, “Thanks for sharing your perspective.” If the other person picks back up with arguing, wait and repeat.
You may not think this is one of the seventeen greatest discoveries ever, but don’t reject it until you’ve tried it.
Now you know so there you go.