March 05, 2021

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION REQUIRES A GOOD BLUF

Written by Dr. Chris Frueh, Lisa Jaster and Dan Bradley

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.

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Christopher Frueh, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaii, and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX. He has thirty years of professional experience working with military veterans and active-duty personnel and has conducted clinical trials, epidemiology, historical, and neuroscience research, primarily with combat veterans. He has co-authored over 300 scientific publications, including historical analysis of U.S. Army suicides dating back to 1819 and a current graduate textbook on adult psychopathology. Professionally, he has worked with combat veterans since 1991 and devotes much of his time to the military special operations community. He has also published commentaries in the National Review, Huffington Post, New York Times, Time, and Washington Post; and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Washington Post, Scientific American, Stars and Stripes, USA Today, Men’s Health, and Los Angeles Times, among others. Under the pen name Christopher Bartley, he has also published nine novels, including THEY DIE ALONE and most recently, A SEASON PAST.

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Lisa Jaster graduated from the West Point Academy with a BS in Civil Engineering and was commissioned as an active duty engineer officer. During 2003, Lisa deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a company executive officer, later serving as the battalion operations construction officer. She attended the Army Engineer Officer Advanced Course at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, and earned her MS in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 2004. After leaving the Active Army, Lisa was employed by Shell Oil Company for 12 years. From April to October 2015, she took a six-month leave of absence and attended Army Ranger School, being one of three females that graduated from the first integrated Ranger School course. Lisa is married to a fellow reserve officer and has two children. She lives an active lifestyle competing in anything from ultra trail runs to CrossFit competitions. She loves martial arts training, specifically Jiu-Jitsu, and is always looking for the next challenge to tackle.

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After graduating from the Air Force Academy, Dan served for over five years as an officer in the elite Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) community. He served both as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) and as a Task Force Advisor on a 2018 deployment in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. His expertise in selecting, developing, and leading effective small teams stems from his experiences as an Air Force Special Warfare Officer, both in training and in combat.
Dan partnered with the Talent War Group (formerly EF Overwatch) in 2019 and now works as the Director of Sales for Kahn Mechanical Contractors in Dallas, Texas. Dan holds a Master of Arts degree in Strategic Leadership from Saint Bonaventure University. He is passionate about mental health advocacy for the veteran community.

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