Language and leadership are two of my favorite topics. I spend a good deal of time studying the symbiosis of these skillsets. More often than not, powerful leaders know how to effectively communicate and effective communicators know how to powerfully lead. But sometimes even the best practitioners in both camps fail to finish what they started.

Beginning a sentence or an idea and then drifting off topic or moving on to the next idea loses the momentum you may have had going, potentially confuses those listening to you, and provides a gap in the narrative flow that your audience is free to fill in as they wish. Failing to finish your sentences misses an opportunity for you to complete your thought and make your point.

I see this play out most frequently in three types of situations. Take a look at the scenarios below and see if you recognize yourself and learn how to finish what you started.

The High Energy Discussion

When we’re engaged in a passionate debate, sometimes our enthusiasm takes over. We may not finish sentences because others aren’t making space for us or because our emotions get in the way of our words. Think about the rapid back and forth between debaters. In their effort to fit as many ideas into their limited speaking time as possible, they sometimes use shorthand such as “you know,” “those kinds of things,” or “like that.” But their audience very possibly don’t “know” what “those kinds of things” might mean. Sure, we can fill in the blanks, but it would be so much more effective to use your words more precisely so we can follow along with you.

Fast Paced Planning

How many times have you been so wrapped up in your own perspective that it feels nearly impossible to slow down and explain exactly what your idea is or how it would work? Every fiber of your being wants you to shout “it’s a really, really, really good idea and if you can’t see that, you’re not looking hard enough!” But the truth may be that your audience needs time to process your idea. Rather than skipping over the details and rushing them to agreement, slow down and take a breath. What have you actually said and how did they respond? What do they need to hear more about and what do they already understand? Pressing the pause button while you recalibrate can be a useful tool when it comes to collaborating with others.

The Assumptive Rally

You might think assuming you’re on the same page as others would be a safe bet if you’re listening to a presentation or talking with a teammate. After all, you’ve just consumed the same data points, so it seems rational that you’d be in the same intellectual space. This is a dangerous place to be, especially if you assume incorrectly. Imagine looking at a co-worker after your boss presents quarterly goals. You may both be disenchanted. But your colleague may feel that the goals are too ambitious while you think they aren’t ambitious enough. When you take the time to articulate your response, you’re starting a conversation from a complete thought rather than a half-formed assumption. There’s a big difference between, “I think we can do better than that – these goals won’t motivate the sales team,” and “The sales goals aren’t at all what I expected.”

Half completed sentences and partially-formed thoughts leave a lot to the imagination, often with unintended results. Save yourself (and those around you) from having to do the hard work of filling in the blanks by intentionally creating clarity through finishing your sentences, slowing down when you need to, and being specific about your thoughts.

Talk to you next week,

Amber D. Nelson