The more you talk, the less people listen. The more noise you make, the more it sounds like a drone. This is an economic principle, and it applies to communication, too. The paradox of attention is this: the more you try to get, the less attentive your audience becomes.
So talk less. Be comfortable with silence. And listen more. Make your message matter by only speaking up when you have something really important to say.
Or, consider the alternative:
Develop an asset that gives you permission to speak whenever you like — so that when you do, people pay attention. This is important, if you’re going to say anything worth hearing. It’s going to take time and work and focus. And it all begins with you.
Size and dignity
Larger audiences shouldn’t mean less attention. Don’t treat your audience as an auditorium. Treat it for what it is: people. Treasure those relationships. Love them. Serve them. Help them.
There is a reason why campaigning politicians visit small towns and shake individuals’ hands and kiss babies. It works. In fact, this is the only way to earn real influence — meeting people in person and building a relationship. Everything else is just a farce.
Losing our humanity
In our world of constant connectivity where we literally have access to thousands of relationships a day, we need to be careful. Because we are in danger of losing the very thing that earned us those relationships in the first place.
This is the secret to success as a performer, artist, and creative: Never lose your humanity. And this is what is missing on our world. People treating other people like human beings. Whether you have an audience of three or thousand, treat each person as just that: a person.
When it comes to communication in our world today, we need more dignity. Not more noisy marketing. In fact, the best marketers are already doing this; they’re returning to their humanity by finding ways to connect in an authentic, personal way.
If you want to make a difference with your words, you should do the same.
The quiet kid in school
I had a friend in college who was brilliant. He graduated Summa Cum Laude and with just about every other honor you can imagine. But the interesting thing about him was he rarely spoke up in class.
His name was Seth, and he was one of the shiest guys you would ever meet. I, on the other hand, was not. We took a lot of the same classes, and I was the one usually blabbing about some strong opinion I had that was usually wrong.
Every once in awhile, though, Seth would break into the discussion with something that would stun us all into silence — including the professor. It took me years to understand, but Seth grasped a concept that I am still struggling with: If you are going to speak, make it count.
Two ways to communicate
At the end of the day, there are two ways to do this:
- Do what I did: talk a lot and hope something intelligible comes out.
- Do what Seth did: listen, think, and reflect. Then speak with power and conviction.
I’m not saying one is necessarily better than the other, but you need to be aware of what you’re doing — the messages you’re communicating and the cost associated with them.
Because people will only listen to you blab for so long. And pretty soon, if you don’t know what you’re talking about (and even sometimes if you do), they’ll just start tuning you out.
How have you experienced the law of diminishing returns in communication? Share in the comments.
*Photo credit: Johan Larsson (Creative Commons)