The 20/80 Rule

by Jermaine


Lean closer. 

Let me tell you a well-known secret…. Most people love talking about themselves. It doesn’t take long to find a topic that will unlock a flood of emotions, memories, and insight. Our goal, as we strive to be better conversationalist, is to use this knowledge to our advantage.

That being said, have you ever heard the comment, “You talk TOO much!”

Maybe you haven’t. Sadly, I have to admit that this comment has Jermaine Donaldson written all over it (ask my wife). Once you get me going I am like a fire truck rolling down a steep hill with the breaks out, there is just NO stopping it.

The final result: Tragedy.

You never know who’s going to get hurt by a bad case of diarrhea of the mouth. It could be you, the person you’re talking to, or even an innocent bystander who is just close enough to hear you drone on and on without any signs of stopping. To be honest people who love you are more likely to listen (your mom, dad, siblings, spouses, etc). However, people who are just getting to know you or are business associates may just be tolerating you in person (and openly-dispising you behind your back). Which leads me to today’s tip: the 20/80 rule.

What is the 20/80 rule?

The 20/80 rule states that in a conversation where you are engaging someone new you try to keep a ratio of 20% to 80%. That means you only speak 20% of the time while you allow your counterpart to speak 80% of the time. For all the talkers like me you’re saying, “How is this possible?” The key (and the point)  is learning how to steer a conversation without dominating it.  You can still ask questions, make comments, and tell short anecdotes. However, you don’t want to tell that 15 minute tale about the time you scored the big shot in high school or the magical pair of Prada pumps you found for pennies at Macy’s. In short, let the conversation come to you. Dont’ force it! Be a facilitator. Sharp, short sentences. Nice neat responses. Replace your long stories with new, more in-depth questions that build on the last question you asked.

The Benefits

  1. You’ll have the opportunity to make everyone of your words count. With only 20% as a goal, it will encourage you to pack more meaning into every sentence that escapes your lips.
  2. You’ll learn infinitely more about the person you’re speaking with instead of them just learning about you.
  3. Get this: the person you’re speaking with may misinterpret you as a “good listener.”
  4. You’ll potentially get better at using open-ended questions to keep your conversations going. Sometimes we engage people who are not long-winded. These are the people you’ll have to really ask the right questions to keep the conversation going -instead- of jumping in and taking over. You may find yourself layers deep into a topic that the other person has never discussed outloud.
  5. Most importantly, you’ll  get to put one of THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE into practice everyday: Habit #5 –Seek First to Understand,. Then to be Understood.

In conclusion, let this rule guide your initial conversations. Let the secret of people’s hidden desire to talk about themselves unlock information you otherwise wouldn’t know. After the first couple of conversations start to shift from 20/80 to 50/50 and watch just how much more interested the other person will be in what you have to say.

Try the 20/80 Rule today with at least one person and share your results!

For further information about communication, click the link below.

Communication Techniques