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Three Rules of Three for Successful Communications

July 15, 2013 5 Comments

For as many words as we use, we’re terrible communicators. Voicemails are jumbled streams of consciousness. Emails are “text bombs” with no rhyme or reason. Presentations are nothing but crippling piles of slides. But don’t worry – here are three rules of three to make your communications clearer, more compelling, and more efficient/effective.

All good things come in threes. Blind Mice, Stooges, Wise Men, Little Pigs, Musketeers, and Rocky movies (for the record, Rocky IV and Rocky V were terrible – see? They should have stopped at three).

Rule of Three #1: It’s Always Three Things

When you convey information, don’t rattle off a list of 47 things the listener must understand. Don’t hand them an incoherent pile of slides and expect them to make sense of them. Structure your work. Chunk up the information into manageable bites. You will find there are usually three bites regardless of what flavor of pie you’re serving.

Why is it usually three topics, sections, ideas, etc.? If you’re only sharing one concept, you likely haven’t broken it down into understandable component parts. If you’re sharing 5 or more concepts, they’re hard to follow and remember. When you chunk your ideas up into groups of three, it’s manageable, understandable, and memorable.

For example, in the above list of 47 items, it’s likely three groups of 15 items or so and in each of those groups are three sub-groups of concepts consisting of 3-5 things in that group. Sure, your audience likely won’t remember the sub-sub points but they’ll remember the high level structure and follow your communication more easily.

Rule of Three #2: They Have to Hear Things Three Times

People have to hear things three times before they fully understand and comprehend it. Don’t think you can waltz into a presentation and deliver information no one has seen before then walk out with approval of your recommendation. That could happen but it will be rare.

More often than not, people need to hear things three times before they support it. The first time, they’re getting a basic understanding of the issue and the context surrounding it. The second time, they’re understanding the nature of your solution and how it solves the issue. The third time, they’re getting their residual questions answered and concerns addressed. Expect to follow this pattern. If you try too hard to push your idea through on the first or second “hearing” you will get more resistance than you might expect.

Rule of Three #3: After Three Emails, Go Have a Conversation

This rule of three is as simple as it sounds. Have you ever had one of those email exchanges that go back and forth about 15 to 20 times? How often do those get resolved? Never. The more back and forth there is, the more confusion, frustration, and problems arise.

Once a conversation has gone back and forth via email three times, pick up the phone or walk over to the other person’s desk and discuss the issue to drive resolution. It’s faster, more efficient, and less frustrating. Stop hiding behind the crutch of email.

The Bottom Line

Threes work. They’ll help your communications. They’ll make your ideas clearer. They’ll help you get support for the things you want done. They’ll reduce frustration and confusion. Try these three rules of three and see how much better your communications become.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

5 Responses to “Three Rules of Three for Successful Communications”

  1. Carlos Diaz says:

    Very good advise. I tell my students that presentations should be divided into THREE parts: Introduction, Body, Conclusion…THREE items.

  2. EMV says:

    Congratulations for that great article. I am participating long time in these debates, and feel that it has a theoretical result but not practical. It is a pity that great ideas are written in these debates, they are not used by anyone and wind carry them is. So I think there not only to insist three times but many more.

  3. […] Fortunately, Mike Figliuolo of ThoughtLeaders LLC wasn’t offering silly ideas when presenting Three Rules for Successful Communications. Here they […]

  4. RJ Bradner says:

    Once again sterling advice that helps in one’s professional and personal life. Thank you.

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