BLUF is a military acronym for “bottom line up front,” and it is a communication strategy used to ensure that the most important message is clearly stated at the outset of any communication, written or spoken.
There. See how easy that was? We put the bottom line up front. Now, you really 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 a number of 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 main purpose is not clear 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 difficult 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 having their time wasted 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 important and what’s not. That leads to passive listening. Can you actually 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 important 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, which can allow them to formulate productive questions and inputs. In that sense, a BLUF is not just important and effective, 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
Christopher Frueh, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, a speaker and contributor with the Talent War Group, and performance specialist with Gray Ghost Solutions – a Houston-based group that provides private and government sector solutions to include medical and security concerns. He has almost thirty years of professional experience working with military veterans and active-duty personnel and has conducted clinical trials, epidemiology, historical, and neuroscience research. He has co-authored over 300 scientific publications (h-Index = 83; total scientific citations > 19,000). He has also published commentaries in the National Review, Huffington Post, New York Times, Time, and Washington Post; and his work has been cited 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.
Lisa Jaster is the Director of Civil Engineering for M&S Engineering and a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Reserve. After graduating from West Point in 2000, she was commissioned as an engineer officer and served on active duty until February 2007. During her time in the military, Lisa deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, earning two Bronze Star Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals, and a Combat Action Badge, to name a few of her awards. She is also one of three women to earn the army’s coveted Ranger Tab out of the initial integrated Ranger School in 2015.
After graduating from the Air Force Academy, Dan Bradley served for over five years as an officer in the elite Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) community within Air Force Special Warfare. In that time, he became qualified as an Air Liaison Officer (ALO) and a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), rising quickly to be entrusted with prominent leadership, management, and director roles. Dan partnered with EF Overwatch in 2019 and now works as the Director of Sales for Kahn Mechanical Contractors, a commercial HVAC company in Dallas. He and his wife Lauren live in Flower Mound, Texas.