Eight ways to cut clutter from your communication

For anyone who’s met me, they know I’m a talker. And, a fast one, too, especially when I’m excited or nervous. The words seem to get bottled up behind my teeth and like bubbles in a shaken soda can, they try to burst out all at once. The result is usually that the person I’m talking to gets a perplexed look on his/her face and I’m asked to repeat myself (slowly, of course). Other emotions can take over, too. For instance, if I’m feeling particularly testy, it’s helpful to wait until I’m in more positive frame of mind before engaging me in conversations (whether in person, on the phone, or via email/text message).

Controlling your emotions so that you can get down to the basics of what you want to say doesn’t have to be difficult, though. All you will likely need is a strategy or two, along with some practice, to help you communicate more clearly and keep conversations uncluttered.

Before figuring out what you want to say, first …

Recognize your triggers

As I mentioned, when my nerves or enthusiasm get the best of me (or both at the same time!), I know I need to take things a bit more slowly. If you make a point of focusing on how you’re feeling at specific times, you’ll be able to decipher which situations make you the most anxious (like public speaking or asking for a raise) so that you can come up with some strategies to remain calm and in control of what you say and how well you say it.

Think about what you want to say

If you have to opportunity to craft a message ahead of time (like when writing an email/letter or leaving a voice message), take it. You’ll be able to gather your thoughts and really think about what you want to say before your say it (even if you’re saying it electronically). This is especially true if you’re annoyed or angry. In those situations, it’s best to wait until you’re feeling more positive, as you run the risk of saying something that you may regret and are unable to retract if you type when you’re mad.

Stay in the moment

Sometimes we trip ourselves up by focusing on things other than our conversation, like what the person we’re talking to thinks about us (like during a job interview). Just like multi-tasking can leave you feeling a bit scattered, so can shifting back and forth from the key points that you’re trying to make. If you start worrying about the impression you’re making, you could find yourself grasping for words, lose focus, and you might not come across the way you intend. Instead, stay in the moment, keep your attention on your discussion, and …

Breathe deeply

… from your diaphram. When you’re feeling nervous and tense, diaphragmatic breathing allows you to take in more oxygen and helps you to relax. This is also a useful technique for the moments leading up to a group presentation, report, or interview. Taking deep breaths will give you some time to think rationally, to put things in perspective, and solidify your talking points.


To get more comfortable with what you want to say, do a trial run, if possible. Say it out loud (and/or record yourself) to hear how you sound. Does your pitch increase or decrease drastically? Are you speaking too quickly or slowly? Does a nervous laugh pop up? Rehearsing can help you fine tune what you want to say in a natural way. It can also help to practice in front of a mirror or with a friend who can give you objective feedback and suggestions for improvement. Recording yourself and playing it back can also be helpful.

Gather pertinent information

You may feel pressured to respond to emails immediately, particularly if the sender indicates they need a quick reply. You could send multiple messages — one that says you received their email, another that actually shares the needed information, and a final follow up. Or, you could gather all the data you need before replying. This will save you some time and reduce inbox clutter.

Block distractions

One way to reduce distractions when you’re on an important phone call is to turn off your call-waiting notification. Turning off call waiting is like turning off email notifications. Both tempt you to stop fully attending to the person you’re talking to, and can make you lose your train of thought (especially when you take your mobile phone from your ear to see who’s calling).

Maintain a positive attitude

Saying the right thing at the right time is important. But, rather than focusing on how poorly you may be feeling, turn your mood around by holding on to your sense of humor and focusing on solutions. Choose strategies that help you feel more comfortable so that you can communicate well.

The less clutter you put out in your communications, typically the less clutter you receive in response.

5 Comments for “Eight ways to cut clutter from your communication”

  1. posted by rose on

    This is going right to my evernote. This is one of my major issues and I just get so frustrated when I sputter and sound stupid and lost my focus. And the more I try to correct it at the time, the worse it gets.


  2. posted by rose on

    I get criticized too or at least get confused looks from people because I start sentences in the middle of a thought or a train of thought which is IN MY HEAD but the other person has no idea what I’m talking about. No reference points.

    I try to think in terms of a subject line in an email and make that plain before I start talking.

    It’s all too much to keep track of all the time though.

  3. posted by Sarah Luna on

    Great advice! All of these strategies have worked for me in the past to help me communicate with my mentors and peers.

    I like to take thinking ahead and rehearsing a step further. I am a PhD student, and a lot of my work is written and verbal communication of some pretty complex ideas.

    Before I meet with someone, I’ll take the time to draw out diagrams of my concepts along with bullets of the main points (almost like a mini slide for myself). Then I say the thoughts out load to see if they sound right.

    I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve caught or how many awkward phrases I’ve avoided by using this method.

    Ultimately, effective communication is about helping someone understand your ideas and understanding theirs in return.

  4. posted by Jodi on

    In our house we say communication needs to be “Clear, concise, complete and correct.”

  5. posted by Another Deb on

    I prefer to make phone calls to parents of my students in order to avoid the possible misinterpretation of tone. This also usually prevents a massive 3-page response that I cannot possible feel better after reading.

    I script my call ahead of time so that I may record on paper what I need to cover, any responses, and any additional information that comes up and I can end with any action plans that need to be followed up. This leaves me with a paper trail.

    It used to be that you had one phone number for a home contact, possible a second work number. Now I must try to call three to six phone numbers for parents, not knowing if they are at home, at the beach 700 miles away (yes, that happened on a school day) or sitting in a meeting and upset that I didn’t know they were busy! On my script I can record the best time and number for the next time.

Comments are closed.