I submitted a chapter for a book. The editor suggested that I should aim for 8,000–10,000 words. After I submitted it, the publisher pulled rank and mandated that all chapters be 5,000 words or less.

I labored to cut it back, but it was still over the word count. I told the editor I was at bare bones—there was nothing else I could cut. I assumed (hoped?) that he would say something like, “Oh, don’t worry about that silly word count from the publisher. Your chapter is so good they will make an exception,” or something like that.

What he actually said was, “No problem, I will edit it down to 5,000 words for you,” which he did, and the chapter was better than before. As you might guess, this word butcher is a highly skilled editor. Greater editing skill produced a chapter that is more succinct and clear.

But this is not only true in writing; the same principle applies to preaching and counseling.

People Hear Less than You Think

When you ask for driving directions, it goes something like this.

“Go for a half mile and turn right at the blinking light.”
“Okay.” So far so good.
“Then, after the railroad tracks, take a right, then an immediate left. Take a soft left at the stop light, then look for the signs.”
“Okay thanks,” you say, but you don’t remember one word of the directions.

Counselors also often hear, “Okay, thanks,” but the person doesn’t remember anything either.

The more words you say, the less other people understand—at least as a general rule. (A corollary: the more you say, the less you understand.)

Preachers can testify that this is true.

Edit Your Counseling

Some verbal meandering is sure to happen in counseling. That is as it should be. The counselee speaks, the counselor responds, the counselee clarifies, the counselor changes direction in light of that clarification. Counseling is a collaborative process, and collaboration is rarely efficient. The goal is not to keep your words under a certain number. The goal is clarity and mutual understanding, and too many words from you may be an obstacle to that.

So, an obvious way to edit your counseling is to say less and listen more. But here are a few other ways to edit your counseling and improve understanding.

  1. At the beginning of your counseling time, ask, “Where are we, would you say? What has been important in our time together?”
  2. During your counseling time, ask, “How are we doing? Are we getting at those things that are especially important? Are we missing anything? Is there anything in particular that the Spirit is impressing on you?”
  3. At the end of your counseling time, ask, “What would you say is most important from our conversation today?” There are many variations on this, such as, “In light of what we are talking about, what would you say that the Spirit is up to in your life?”

When I think of times I have apologized or asked forgiveness during counseling, 90% of those apologies have been for talking too much. These questions can help edit our ramblings, force us to listen, and aid clarity.