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Manliness Trait: Never Use Eight Words When Four Will Do

30 July 2008 12 Comments

I stole this line directly from the remake of Ocean’s Eleven. Brad Pitt’s character (Rusty) was a man of very few words, but an extremely effective communicator.

Rusty coaches Matt Damon to “never use eight words, when four will do“. As Damon’s character (Linus) prepares for a one-time only attempt at the sting, Rusty wanted Linus to be an effective communicator and to NOT get on the nerves of Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) – which could blow up the whole charade.

What Rusty was afraid of, was that Linus was not going to come across as a confident, intelligent man. If any hint of being nervous or unsure were felt by Benedict, it would have been seen as weak and a lack of conviction.

Learn to control your emotions and therefore your words with precision by learning when to shut up. Say what you need to say in concise form. Then sit back and wait with complete confidence and conviction.

Why we do it

Trying to fill uncomfortable silences with chatter is ineffective. It actually hinders your communication efforts. Have you ever spoken with someone that goes on and on for several minutes only to get to a point they should have gotten to at the very beginning? It happens all the time.

People feel the need to preface what they truly want to say, before they actually say it. Maybe we want to make certain the other party doesn’t get confused. Maybe we want to soften the blow of the message. Maybe we are simply stalling because we don’t know what we want to say. There are several possible reasons, but it is never effective.

Most of the time, we don’t even know we are doing it. We simply ramble – looking for ways to fill in the gaps while we wait for the conversation to unfold. This method strips you of control of the discussion and the message.

Good communication skills

Recommended by a friend, The Elements of Style is a book that should be on every man’s bookshelf. Written by William Strunk, it delivers perfect advice for the person interested in mastering this Manliness Trait.

Whether in the written form or orally, Strunk delivers his message of effective communication – “omit needless words!” He states, “Vigorous (and effective) writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words. Every word should tell.”

He gives phenomenal advice in Chapter 2 on Effective Composition. Put simply, if you want to master this Manliness Trait, follow these simple ideas:

Use the active voice. This is much more direct and vigorous. Using active voice delivers a direct, bold and concise message. It makes for forcible writing and speaking. A couple of examples:

Passive – There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground.
Active – Dead leaves covered the ground.

Passive – The reason he left college was that his health became impaired.
Active – Failing health compelled him to leave college.

Passive – It was not long before he was very sorry that he had said what he had.
Active – He soon repented his words.

Rusty would be proud of such elimination of needless words. Active voice gives us the manliness of surety.

Put statements in positive form. Avoid tame, hesitating and noncommittal language. Also, avoid using the word “not” unless as a means of denial. The reader or listener wants to be told what is. This gives the other party the impression you are in command and sure of yourself. Here are a few examples from the book:

Ineffective – He was not very often on time
Effective – He usually came late.

Ineffective – She did not think that studying French was much use.
Effective – She thought the study of French useless.

Communication in the positive form gives you authority. The other party will quickly understand what you are saying and respect it as being clear and to the point. They may not agree, but they will respect.

Use definite, specific, concrete language. The confident man prefers the specific to the general; the definite to the vague; the concrete to the abstract. Effective manliness is all about being direct and sure of himself. In communication, only express the details that matter. Deal in particulars and others will hang on your every word because they know every word matters. Here are a few examples from the book:

Vague – A period of unfavorable weather set in.
Specific – It rained every day for a week.

Vague – He showed satisfaction as he took possession of his well-earned reward.
Specific – He grinned as he pocketed the coin.

By doing this, you will omit needless words. You will also emit great authority, confidence, and manliness. There is something very manly about being sure of your words. There is no doubt or confusion about the point you want to make.

Why it’s manly

Having effective communication is essential for today’s man. It depicts confidence, surety, thoughtfulness, strength, conviction, and most of all, manliness. Never use eight words, when four will do is a cornerstone to this end.

Filling those uncomfortable silences with useless chatter can be a detriment. It is a man’s surety of the words he chooses that drives home the idea of this Manliness Trait.

Finally, using a limited number of words to get your point across, forces you to use other, non-verbal communication to finish off the thought. Think about the importance!

Having convictions with your words, your appearance, and your mannerisms covers the entire package of being a man. It helps make you congruent in the eyes of others. It leaves no doubt that what you say is true based on all the other communication channels at work at any given moment. If used correctly, it can be one of the most priceless tools in our manly tool chests.


  • Style Habits said:

    Getting your thoughts across to another person using as few as words possible is ideal, but difficult. If two people don’t associate the same meaning to words or the combinations thereof then what comes across is a short but not terse discussion.

    Style Habitss last blog post..The Top 5 Ways To Boost Your Style — Shoes

  • Lance said:

    Great post. Effective communication happens to be my specialty, and I wanted to offer my two cents for a dating context. When dating, keep your conversations concise and DON’T GIVE EVERYTHING AWAY AT ONCE. Yes, you should tell stories and use effective language, but don’t give away the whole ball of wax. Keep them guessing a bit, and leave holes and dangling threads so that she can ask questions and followup. It took me a long time to figure this out, but once I did, it helped me generate a ton more attraction.

    Also, don’t be afraid of silences. They’re only awkward if you let them. Insert pauses into your convo so that she’ll ask questions and give yourself a mental break.

    Lances last blog post..RoseMary Shell: Spawn of Satan or Jilted Victim?

  • Kevin (author) said:

    @Style – Always expand if needed. Using the passive voice is always a killer in books.

    @Lance – Your advice is right on. It is all about attraction. Also, the silences can be great. There is a LOT communicated during that time.

  • Mike Bates said:

    As a teacher and tutor of English comp, I am often struck by how many students make their writing overly complicated as a way of sounding smarter, as though intelligent people use overwrought phrases and twist themselves into knots just looking for just the right synonym. I don’t know how many times I’ve suggested that students just keep their writing simple. As they would explain something to me, but without the “ummms” and the slang.

    You’re right on two other counts, Kevin. Effective communication (written and spoken) is the single most important thing for everyone to learn in today’s world, no matter what field they are going into. It’s how business gets done and how you convince people to help you. If you want to shape the world, either locally (say, you need a small business loan) or a large way (say, you’re running for President), you have to be able to convince others that you’re right. And Strunk and White’s book is an essential resource. Also, great movie reference; Ocean’s 11 has a high rewatchability.

  • Kevin (author) said:

    @Mike – thanks for your comments. These are great!

  • rummuser said:

    The less one says, the less the chances that he will make mistakes. The more verbose, the greater chances that the listener has lost interest half way through.

    East to preach, extremely difficult to practice.

    rummusers last blog post..People of the Services. What service do they render?

  • Kevin (author) said:

    @rummuser – perfectly explained!!!

  • The Manival #15 | Discovering Dad said:

    […] presents Manliness Trait: Never Use Eight Words When Four Will Do posted at Return To Manliness. Share and […]

  • Virilitas said:

    This advice is worth rereading every day for a month.

  • Linguists and Reading Comprehension « Writing for Torre said:

    […] passive. A few results show a misunderstanding including a science course, a computer course, and a blog. Here is a source that understands. Minnesota State made the mistake. Of the resulting sources aimed […]

  • brian said:

    well written, however it’s “seven words” not ‘eight words’

  • tony patricelli said:

    the actual quote was “don’t use 7 words when 4 will do” ….

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