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There is one piece of wisdom that I believe would make this world a better place to live: “Speak briefly, speak warmly, and fill every sentence with kindness, clarity, and optimism.”
We’re all bad communicators, but don’t realize it. The human brain can only absorb about 5-10 words and recall them with any degree of accuracy. That’s one sentence, about 10 seconds. But most people talk for an average of three minutes before pausing. That means that the listener can only recall about 1/20th of what you said, and it is often the wrong 10 words! That’s why, when I teach communication strategies to students, teachers, therapists, attorneys and corporate leaders, we practice the “10-10 Game.”
It’s very easy to learn and it trains your brain to speak more efficiently and effectively in less than ten minutes.
You hold your fists in front of you, raising one finger for each word you speak. But you must fall silent when you run out of fingers! Then you let the other person respond with 10 words as you deeply listen and pay close attention to their facial expression. When I explain this in group workshops, many people seemed shocked!
“It’s not possible,” they say, “I have to explain everything so they can understand me.” Wrong! You must only speak one brief sentence, and then see if the listener is following. If not, why continue?
The 10-10 Game is an experiential exercise, and you’ll discover that your brain can actually convey more meaning with fewer words. Try it with a colleague or a friend or family member tonight. You face each other, raise your fists and begin speaking and counting. The slower you speak the better, and intimacy will quickly develop. Slower speaking also improves neural comprehension in the listener’s brain. It eliminates anxiety and irritability, and it even interrupts attention-deficit symptoms.
When you do this with a 10 year old or an adolescent, the child will love it because they feel that you are really listening to them. Practice the 10-10 game with 3 people and you’ll see that your whole communication style will improve.
Of course, this is just a training exercise, but when it comes to effective speaking and problem solving with others, or in groups, I recommend that you try your best to adhere to the 20-Second “Rule,” speaking for no longer than 20 seconds – and much less when you want to convey a key point or concept. Twenty seconds is about how long it takes to speak two or three sentences, but you’ll still have to count out your words on your fingers until you build the intuitive skill of speaking briefly. Without your fingers, you’ll probably say too much and muddle the effectiveness of your conversation. With them, you can solve problems in a quarter of the time it normally takes. Speaking briefly, with warmth and compassion, will generate inner peace, and when practiced in public it may just bring a little more peace into a world filled with angry words.

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Mark Waldman is one of the world’s leading experts on communication, spirituality, and the brain. He is on the faculty at Loyola Marymount University’s College of Business and the Holmes Institute. Mark has authored 12 books, including the national bestseller, How God Changes Your Brain, an Oprah pick for 2012. His research has been published throughout the world and featured in Time, the Washington Post, the New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Investor’s Business Weekly, and Oprah Magazine. Mark teaches communication, conflict resolution, and productivity-enhancement strategies to schools, corporations, and spiritual organizations. His clients include world-renowned universities, psychological associations, educational institutes, and government/civic organizations. He has appeared on PBS Television and NPR Radio, and he received the Distinguished Speaker award from the Mind Science Foundation.

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This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Ten words to explain your point – and no more than 20 seconds at a time. WOW ! What a concept. I have found that many times “less is more” when trying to communicate – especially something new to the listener or with more steps. Thanks Mark for a good illustration.

  2. I LOVE this, Mark! You really put communication into perspective here! I am going to implement the 10-10 game today.
    Thank You!

    1. It was unclear, in the 10-10 exercise, after you say 10 words and then let the other person say 10 words, are they saying whatever they want or are they supposed to be mirroring their understanding of what you said and vice-versa?

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