Always Say Less Than Necessary

Never miss a good chance to shut up

During the years 1969–73, Winston Lord was a man with huge responsibilities.

He was a member of the US National Security Council’s planning staff, special assistant to Henry Kissinger, and later became the US Ambassador to China.

Lord was practically present in every Nixon, Ford, and Kissinger meeting in the 1970s.

Being the ambassador to China, he wrote speeches for Kissinger and Nixon.

After writing his first draft for Kissinger’s speech, he sent it to him the next morning:

Kissinger: “Lord, is this the best you can do?” Lord: “Henry, I thought so, but I’ll try again”

A few days later, he comes up with another draft,

Kissinger: “Are you sure this is the best you can do?” Lord: “Well, I really thought so. I’ll try one more time.”

Every time Lord came up with a draft, he was faced with the same curt question. Soon Lord had had enough and he snapped,

“Damn it, yes it’s the best I can do”

To which Kissinger replied,

“Fine, then I guess I’ll read it this time”

By the time the speech was accepted, Lord had written** 9 **drafts — until he couldn’t improve anymore.

While this story is often told to teach people to have confidence in their work, it teaches us something more.

Kissinger always asked the same question to Lord. He could’ve read the speech, then pointed out errors and told him exactly where he needed improvements.

But would it produce the same result? Not really.

If you put yourself in the shoes of Kissinger, you realize how effective his silence was.

It is very difficult to get people to do things just by talking to them. They would react to your criticism and subvert your authority.

You can get much more done using silence.

Silence is one of the most powerful skills you can learn. It gives you peace, better relationships, more influence, and a confident personality.

It is rare that you see a tool which benefits you in all aspects of your life —work, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Here are some benefits you’ll see when you include moments of silence in your life.

You Learn Much More When You Shut Up

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you — Dale Carnegie

If a ‘conversation’ has to happen, one of the people involved will have to speak. Obviously, this is not true in all cases — people can speak as much, if not more, without verbal communication.

But it stands true for most of our daily interactions.

If you don’t want to speak (because you’re on this weird experiment that you read about on Medium), then you’ve to make efforts to get the other person to speak.

The way you do that is by asking open-ended questions. And then digging deeper.

It seems easy, but when you try this, you realize otherwise.

Usually, you’re always thinking of something else during a conversation. It’s difficult to get the mind on one subject for a long time — because we aren’t trained that way.

Asking one open-ended question is not enough. The person will not continue to blabber. At some point, he’s going to stop.

At this point, you need to think of ways to dig deeper. That’s where you learn the most.

That’s what gets the person to continue. If you do that even in a single conversation, you’ll see the benefits instantly.


I cannot trust a man to control others if he cannot control himself — Robert E. Lee

Silence is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strong self-control.

It feels like meditation.

You’re continuously bringing your attention back to what the person is saying. You’re preventing your focus to drift away to innumerable distractions.

So often, you start judging the person on the basis of what he’s saying, what he’s wearing, how he’s sitting, etc.

You then go down a rabbit hole of thoughts and judgments. Even before the person has said the first sentence, you think you have him all figured out.

When a person is saying something you don’t like, you immediately close your heart. Your posture becomes slouchy. And you’re ready to react and defend.

Basically, the floodgates are open and your emotions flow through.

Whatever he says after that would stop making sense to you — because your emotions are now a sieve to your perception. Sooner or later, you will say something stupid that harms the relationship.

Once the words are out, they cannot be taken back. No matter how much you apologize and how you didn’t mean to say it. Control yourself and use your words judiciously.

What You Say Will Carry More Weight and Influence

Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence― Leonardo da Vinci

Scarcity creates value. If you otherwise talk less, your words would carry more weight.

The more you speak the more ordinary you appear. The less you speak, the more uncommon you’ll appear. Thus, people would naturally talk about you more. They would want to know more about you.

Your silence would be confusing for people. They’ll never be able to predict what you’re going to do next.

Even when you don’t speak, your listeners would automatically try to attach meaning to it. They’ll keep wondering about what you feel.

You’ll Be Able to Read People

You are most powerful when you are most silent. People never expect silence. They expect words, motion, defense, offense, back and forth. They expect to leap into the fray. They are ready, fists up, words hanging leaping from their mouths. Silence? No

― Alison McGhee, All Rivers Flow To The Sea

Getting to know the person you’re talking to is a necessary art in business, sales, negotiations, and relationships. But you can’t read people if you’re talking all the time.

Your silence and the ability to ask open-ended questions gives you the space to analyze the person.

If you’re in sales, you can see what your customer actually wants instead of what he says he wants.

When you’re negotiating, silence shows that you’re confident. You don’t need to justify your points all the time. You project power. The other party does not have the right to every explanation.

Since most can’t handle the silence, they’ll fill it with counter suggestions. And there’s a good chance that they cave in.

In relationships, you need to understand the deeper emotion at play — why he’s behaving a particular way. If you become a part of the emotional frenzy you’ll not be able to figure out anything. Don’t jump in the pit to get someone out of it.

If you want to study human nature, you need to be a silent observer. By understanding deeply about why people do what they do, you can excel in all areas of life. It’s upon you to step back and start to see these patterns. The only way to do that is to shut up.

No matter what emotion you’re feeling, if you’re silent, the damage would be minimal. Yes, your expression and body language matter but most people do not notice that. They go only by what you say. Resist the urge to lash out at the moment because the temporary satisfaction that you get will be outweighed by the price you pay.

It is even more damaging for a minister to say foolish things than to do them — Cardinal de Retz

You’ll Be a Great Listener

Silence makes idiots seem wise even for a minute

― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game

No matter what anyone tells you, listening is important. It’s also a skill that most people are not good at — which gives you leverage if you practice it enough.

In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie shares many examples of how being a great listener is key to good relationships.

He met a woman at a bridge party who wanted to know all about his travel stories and all the amazing places Dale had seen.

When they started talking, the woman told him that she had just returned from a trip to Africa. Dale then asked her to tell him more about Africa and her experiences.

She kept on speaking for 45 minutes! Turns out, she wasn’t all that interested in listening to his stories. She was looking for a way to tell her own. Everyone, including you, behaves the same way.

Dale mentions a similar conversation with a botanist. He knew nothing about botany but he questioned the person curiously and allowed him to speak. The botanist told the party host that he had the “most stimulating” conversation with Dale.

In both instances, Dale didn’t say much. He just got the other person talking. Even when the woman at the party asked about his experience, he turned the question around. And by using this one skill, he was able to hold amazing conversations effortlessly.

Letting the other person speak more will not only make him feel better but also free you from the constant need of speaking.

You Won’t Sound Stupid

I often regret that I have spoken; never that I have been silent— Publilius Syrus

The more you speak the more you put yourself at the risk of saying something stupid. Knowing what not to say is as important as knowing what to say.

You Become Calmer — and Calmness is Soothing

In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves ― Rumi

When you speak less, there’s a sense of calmness and serenity in your speech. In our day-to-day hectic lives, such calmness feels soothing to us.

People would feel at ease during such a conversation which sets you up for an amazing time together.

You Cut Out Filler Words

Be silent or let thy words be worth more than silence― Pythagoras

Filler words are irritating. Especially when a person uses it every time they need to pause.

Recently I had a chance to observe students in a group discussion. I was also a part of the panel of judges. One of the participants was filling each pause with words like ‘actually’ and ‘you know’. And it’s the sole reason why the panel downvoted her to the second position instead of the first.

Our speed of thinking does not always match our speed of speaking. When you say less than necessary, you can map out exactly what you have to say without stopping.

The mind only needs a few moments to get up to speed.

It’s one of the easiest hacks for better speaking.

Silence is God

In the silence of the heart, God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence

― Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories, and Prayers

Being on the spiritual path, it is important to carve out every possible moment to go inward. Divine experiences don’t happen when you’re restless and busy with useless tasks.

The seeds of intuition only grow on the calm grounds of silence.

Often, people think God does not talk to them — that he’s sitting somewhere up in the clouds deciding whom to speak to today.

The truth is, He has Infinite Consciousness — ever present with every sentient being.

And so our job is to still ourselves enough to hear His voice. He speaks with a whisper, not with a shout.

When most people pray, for instance, they are restless and their mind is wandering.

They don’t realize that they are not even in front of the altar of God — which is Silence. When you go to this altar and pray, He comes to you.

In these deep moments of silence is our opportunity for spiritual growth. That is where our intuition flourishes and our prayers are answered.

I have to admit, cultivating silence in your life is a tall order. So start as small as you can, but start today.

Next time, when someone passes a sarcastic comment, refrain from replying. When someone gets on your nerve, stay calm and silent. In your next conversation, speak as little as you can — ask more questions and get to know the person.

When a question has no correct answer, there is only one honest response. The gray area between yes and no.


Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code

These small moments of stillness give you a glimpse of the calmness that silence can give you. Once you start to see the benefits, you’ll switch your default mode of operation.

Your words are precious. Use them to bring love and light in this world.

Share your experience in the comments and let me know if I missed something :)

Written on June 11, 2020