This is a story about three related things: emotional intelligence, legendary American author Mark Twain, and the art of getting to the point.

Let me follow my own advice by giving you the bottom line up front.

There are a few common ways that otherwise smart people undermine their own goals and betray a lack of emotional intelligence when they want to convince others to help them achieve something.

  • First, they fail to articulate their exact objectives.
  • Second, they get so focused on what they want to say, that they neglect to consider how their message will land on other people’s ears.
  • Finally, they muddle directions and meander as they talk, so that it winds up being unclear exactly what they hope other people will do.

The whole thing is a recipe for confusion, even when everyone has the best of intentions. So, emotionally intelligent people learn to embrace a deceptively simple habit that helps them overcome all three pitfalls.

Let’s use Twain’s contribution to illustrate. It comes from one of his most famous quotes outside of his literature — specifically from a letter he supposedly wrote to a friend more than 150 years ago. 

The popular version of the quote: "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

Some purists may quibble about whether he said it exactly like this, or if he was actually paraphrasing something that Blaise Pascal had written earlier, in French. 

Regardless, Twain knew it then; I’m telling you now: Coming up with a good message takes time, but truly crafting it — editing it, to put it differently, and ensuring it’s efficiently tied to your ultimate desired outcomes — can take a heck of a lot more time. 

It’s true for books and letters and articles here on, and it’s true when it comes to strategically communicating in an emotionally intelligent manner.

Fast example: Let’s say that you’re considering a wonderful opportunity for your business, but you also face challenges. 

Maybe you have a once-in-a-blue-moon chance to take on a sizable job for a dream client. At the same time, you’re facing staffing shortages and a pandemic, and you’d need everyone’s best efforts to have any shot at making it work.

You’re very excited, and you want to get your team excited.

The average leader — even the above-average one — might gather the team and explain why it’s such a great opportunity for the company, and why this is the time that everyone needs to pitch in together and rise to the occasion.

The emotionally intelligent leader, however, frames everything from the point of view of his or her team:

  • what the opportunity means for everyone together,
  • what it means for individual contributors, and
  • what’s specifically needed from each person in order to reach the goal.

The hard part is that it takes more time to think about all of these angles and to craft the right message. You might even need to segment things better, so that you don’t try to communicate everything to everyone at once.

On top of all of that, you have the added challenge of being brief. But, when done right, you also get the benefit of being far more likely to achieve your ultimate goals.

This is part of what emotional intelligence is really all about: becoming aware of both your emotions and other people’s emotions and then leveraging them in order to make it more likely to achieve your ultimate goals.

There’s a place in leadership and in life for long-windedness. Sometimes you have to write down everything you know, even just to discover what you truly think. 

Heck, when it comes to emotional intelligence, I’ve written an entire free ebook on the subject, 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence, which runs a little more than 10,000 words. (Although in fairness and by design, that still makes it a very short book.)

Still, sometimes silence speaks volumes. Taking time to weed out the many things you might want to say (because you’re thinking emotionally) in order to make the ones that you truly need to say more memorable, makes the difference between confusion and clarity.

So, follow the Mark Twain Rule to become exceptionally persuasive. Chart the emotionally intelligent route, and take the time to write the shorter letter.  

Don’t be surprised if you find the extra effort pays off, as you remove the impediment of misunderstanding from more of your most important conversations.