A colleague of mine led our group in a really interesting exercise. She challenged us to pair up and have constructive conversations with each other, with one person taking on the role of someone communicating a problem. The other person – the one listening and helping – had the restriction of only being able to use three words in their responses.
What a challenge! The exercise was fantastic, and broadly applicable even outside of my industry as a professional listener-and-helper. When you have to keep your responses to three words or fewer, you really, really listen. You pay careful attention. You think before you speak. You don’t speak over the other person. You don’t immediately try to “fix.”
These are all excellent things for anyone to do. There’s an enormous value in being able to restrict and control yourself when your instinct is to just vomit out as many words as you can think of. We try to sound smart via quantity more often than quality, and this is a good check on that.
You don’t have to artificially use “three words,” but the next time someone comes to you with a problem, challenge yourself to keep your responses to the bare minimum number of words that gives them a solid direction to go next and the space to do it. Watch the conversational magic unfold.
Try it out.