Concision needs context and compassion


We are constantly pushed to do more, in less time, with fewer resources.

The world is always on. Always pinging us with notifications, alerts and reminders from our bottomless lists and inboxes.

And we respond to this world with a series of short, jerky, reflexive reactions. We’re playing whack-a-mole, but instead of a hammer, we have email, slack and whatsapp.

But the pace of the game has made our messages pointed and brutal. They’re forged from the cold steel of efficiency and function.

It’s not uncommon to receive an email such as:


This is unacceptable. Just get them to do it.


or simply:


but probably most likely:


Sent from my iPhone.

We’ve adopted concision as our weapon of choice, but we’ve abandoned the two ingredient which make it effective: context and compassion.

Our short messages need context, because otherwise they are open to misinterpretation.

Whether tonally, syntactically or thematically – a reduced word count makes it tough to understand meaning and nuance. This is especially true of sarcasm which, by its very nature can be almost impossible to correctly discern.

Anyone on the receiving end of


(no punctuation, caps or context) will know what I’m talking about.

Thankfully, most of our common tools try to preserve as much context as possible by presenting our back-and-forth in a stream we can see.

The second requirement is compassion. Most people are happy to have the facts pretty straight, but they shouldn’t arrive as if fired from an AK-47.

We need to understand the impact of what we’re saying and then use enough of the right words to convey that understanding.

We always can use fewer words – but we’re potentially making our message both harder to understand and less impactful.

And if we’re being less effective with this shortened communication, then our concision is a false economy.

If being short means we’re incurring a debt of misunderstanding which we’re going to have to pay later, we should just take a little more time in the first place.

Hero or villain? It’s all in the edit

The amazing Spider-man overpowered by the rampaging Rhino by Levi Espino

You could have really made a good 2-3 minute trailer of me looking like an absolute arsehole yesterday.

As I tried to get 3 kids ready, around a museum, home, fed, clean and to bed – I snapped, cajoled, threatened, bribed, carried and ignored.

If you just saw those moments, then I would have looked like one of the most unsuccessful and unlikeable fathers in Christendom.

On balance however, the day was really good. For each shitty moment of parental-desperation-versus-child-set-to-weapons-grade-misbehaviour, there were lots of good times and a couple of absolute gems.

You could have probably also made a trailer of these highlights – although I suspect the audience for them would be pretty damn small.

And yesterday wasn’t a stand-out day because of these highs and lows – it was par for the course. Every day is filled both with moments we’d rather nobody saw and others we’d wish that nobody missed.

And this is precisely what we see of other people’s lives. We see moments. We see an edit. That’s all we get.

Sometimes we get the highs, sometimes we get the lows and sometimes we see a more balanced mix – but it’s important to remember that we’re only ever seeing a trailer. No matter how good or bad someone looks in that trailer, the full story is undoubtedly more nuanced (and mundane).

Similarly, it’s worth keeping in mind that other people are only seeing a small edit of our days.

Yesterday was a good day – but there are about 25 people floating around London that probably saw an edit of me yesterday which was probably worthy of a scathing mumsnet post.

It’s worth us remembering that other people’s stories began before we were paying attention and will continue long after we’ve drifted away.

The only reason that some end with “happily ever after” is that someone yelled “CUT!” before everyone in the story got explosive diarrhoea*.

* Thanks to Justin Hamilton for this wonderful idea.