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Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary (The 48 Laws of Power)

Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary

Coriolanus
Coriolanus

When it comes to speech, less is more, and more is less. Remaining silent or saying only few words makes you sound more profound and mysterious. People will respect you for it. But when you say too much, you will likely suffer the repercussions.

King Louis XIV of France was very eloquent as a young man. He used to take pride in his verbal skills and would flaunt them at every opportunity. But he learned that this was a futile, even counterproductive strategy. When he matured, he conducted himself in the complete opposite manner. He kept his responses brief and poignant, he said very little, but thought very much about what he said. Everyone revered him for this. He avoided making many mistakes by simply not running his mouth.

Greene’s example of this law’s transgression involves an Italian soldier known as Coriolanus. Being a military hero of ancient Rome, there was no shortage of reasons for the people to adore him. In fact, when he publicly displayed his scars to them while making a speech, they grew in admiration for his bravery. And when the elections came around, he was almost guaranteed to win. But on the day of the election, he committed a grave error. His speech consisted of jokes that only the patricians understood, and he was arrogantly claiming victory in the elections before it occurred. His arrogance and attitude conveyed him as a despicable braggart to the common people. They decided to vote against him that day.

In reaction to the results of the election, he turned against the people. One day, after the Romans received a shipment of grain that was going to be fed to the people, Coriolanus publicly stood against this decision, saying it would lead to trouble. This created even more resentment towards him. He even denounced the notion of democracy, insisting that the patricians should assume full control.

The people demanded an apology for what he said. The previously revered hero later spoke to them again, this time speaking calmly at first, but then suddenly losing all control over his speech. He insulted the people yet again, and this time, they wanted him dead. The patricians intervened and changed his sentence to eternal exile from the city that he loved. The people of Rome celebrated in the streets when he had gone, more than they ever have before.

Oysters open completely when the moon is full; and when the crab sees one it throws a piece of stone or seaweed into it and the oyster cannot close again so that it serves the crab for meat. Such is the fate of him who opens his mouth too much and thereby puts himself at the mercy of the listener. – Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519

Trying to impress people with words will often have the counter effect, they will see you as a common fool who is out of control – even if what you are saying is important. If you say something meaningless, but keep it short and vague, people will find you intimidating, and they will respect you more.

Read The 48 Laws of Power

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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