In The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene, the 4th law reads “always say less than necessary”.
The idea behind this law is that the less you say, the more powerful your words come across– and the less likely you are to say something foolish.
Many of us stress about what to say, when really we should put more thought into how much to say. When we pull back the reins on our talking, we allow others to say more. They fill in the gaps left by your silence, allowing you to understand the message, as well as the intent, much better than if you were counting the seconds until you’d get to speak next.
When using someone’s words to help make a decision, knowing both the message and intent is important. This way, you have what you need to make more of a sound choice.
Speaking less also gives your words more weight. When we go into less detail, even leaving statements open-ended, our words come across as more profound. This will lead people to look forward to your messages, not just feel obligated to hear them.
Artist Andy Warhol once said to a friend, “I learned that you actually have more power when you shut up.”
What he said held true for him. Warhol would give short, vague answers in interviews, leaving fans in a twist trying to analyse quotes that often meant nothing great at all. People paid attention to him, his words, and his art, because it was so rare for him to give the whole spiel. What more do we want than for people to pay attention to what we have to say?
Less talking also benefits us by preventing the wrong words from slipping out. Sometimes, we unintentionally say something that sounds foolish, or even puts us in danger. Unfortunately, once we speak our thoughts, there’s no taking them back, they’re out there forever.
In one great illustration of this point, we have a robbery suspect from California who couldn’t keep quiet. Whilst standing as part of a line-up for his crime, detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words: “Give me all your money or I’ll shoot”. The suspect replied, “that’s not what I said!” Clearly, he would’ve been much better off by saying less.
Before speaking, we should ask ourselves whether what we have to say is truly important. We should also consider our words for some time, finding the point and trimming away excess detail. In the long run, this does more for us and for others.