BLUF is a military acronym for “bottom line up front,” It is a communication strategy used to ensure that the most crucial message is clearly stated at the outset of any communication, written or spoken.
There. See how easy that was? We put the bottom line upfront. Now, you don’t even need to read the rest of this commentary because you already know what it says.
In case you’re still reading… Too often, too many of us save our “bottom line” messages as punchlines to long narratives that we feel compelled to share. For several reasons, this can lead to ineffective communication.
Here are some of the ways:
1. Listener attention spans may drift before the main point is even reached. Most of us will lose interest in a message if the primary purpose is unclear and easily discernible.
2. Aroused emotions may be evoked in listeners when communicators lead off with dire warnings or ideas that suggest changes or threats to the status quo. Emotions such as fear or anxiety will make it more challenging to listen, process, and understand information that comes afterward.
3. Long preambles may be distracting or confusing, causing listeners to focus on the wrong details or miss the main point entirely.
4. Lengthy introductions and rambling lead-ins may also irritate listeners who resent wasting their time by an overly loquacious speaker.
5. You may not even be talking to the right person. Waiting to the end to figure that out wastes everyone’s time.
In the TWG Leadership Collective #012, “Speak to be Heard, Not to Talk,” we addressed the importance of knowing for yourself why you are delivering a message and what you want your audience to take away from it. Too often, leaders behave as though their platform exists to service needs other than conveying information effectively.
Example: Some time ago, an institutional leader sent an email to over a hundred professionals in her reporting line that started with: “This is very long. Action items are at the bottom.”
What followed was a 1,728-word treatise on a range of topics. To this day, it is still an irritant (or a matter of amusement) to many who received it, in part because no one has ever been able to figure out what the leader was trying to communicate.
Consider this – as a listener or a receiver, you don’t want to have to sort through mountains of information while trying to identify what’s essential and what’s not. That leads to passive listening. Can you listen effectively when you don’t even know what the deliverer is talking about in the first place?
As a communicator, you can drive the receiver to listen actively by telling them what is essential right away. This sets the stage for the concise transfer of information and helps the receiver think critically about what is being shared with them in real-time, allowing them to formulate productive questions and inputs. In that sense, a BLUF is not just important and influential but also considerate to your audience.
Remember, the point of speaking is not to talk; it is to be heard. Many speakers drone on and on about secondary or tertiary topics, either overloading their audience with information or boring them well before they ever get to their point. Don’t be that speaker. Use the BLUF approach and be known as someone who communicates clearly and directly.