“I’ve got this person in my organization. She’s really sharp, does a great job and I like her. The only thing is…..” I hear this line a lot, with only the gender and the ending changing. Most recently, I heard this from one of my CEO clients who ended it by saying that “he comes in my office and just won’t stop talking. What do I do?”
We all know these people. I call them “Long Talkers”. They are often social, well-meaning, happy people who tend to process out loud, and talk in stories. While these folks are often well liked and their long-talking nature is tolerated by most, the problem is that they are not as effective as they could be. They are taking up way too much precious time, theirs and yours, getting to their point.
As leaders, it’s our job to coach the people in our orgs to perform at their highes level possible. Part of that is to teach them skills that will make them more effective. For the long talker, that skill is bottom lining.
Typically, the term, bottom line, refers to the last line on an income statement, a company’s profit or loss. However, you often hear the term used more colloquially (e.g. “The bottom line is this:….”) In this context, the bottom line refers to the essence of the story or the final result.
The skill of bottom lining is conveying the essence of the story, without going through all the messy details first. It’s likely that the average long talker does so because they haven’t processed through the story to get to their own conclusion. They haven’t yet made meaning of it. If you have plenty of time, and the story is highly emotional, helping someone process can be a valuable gift. And most often, that’s not what we do in the workplace. Teaching your people bottom lining can save everyone time and even add meaning to previously unmeaningful, tedious conversations.
Start by introducing bottom lining in a neutral setting, like in your regular one to one with the long talker. You can start by saying something like “I’ve noticed that some of our conversations can take quite a bit of time and that it takes a while before we are able to identify an action to take. I’d like to talk with you about the skill of bottom lining that I think will help both of us be more effective. From time to time, when our conversations get long and detailed, I’ll ask you to “bottom line” it for me. That means I’d like to hear the essence of the issue, without the story, so that we can decide what to do about it.”
Once you’ve introduced your employee to bottom lining, you can use it by asking them to bottom line their stories. If they are having trouble getting to it, here are a few additional questions you can ask, “What was the meaning you made from this?” “What’s the nugget you got from this?” And if they still can’t get to it, you can ask them to think more about it and come back when they have the bottom line. This may feel a bit abrupt at first and as you do it consistently, your people will start coming to you with the bottom line and you’ll move everything forward faster.
It’s true. Bottom lining can improve your bottom line. Just give it a try and give your long talkers a new skill.