Law 4: Always say Less Than Necessary


48 Laws of Power

The lessons    Law 1    Law 2   Law 3   Law 4

When you try to impress people with your words, the more you say, the less valuable you appear, and the less you are in control. Powerful people are known to impress and intimidate by saying less. The more you say, the higher the tendency for you to say something foolish.

Intelligent people are known to talk less. It is better to remain silent and hide doubt of foolishness. When you talk too much, people know who you are; you lose value and you become too predictable. A person who has no control of his own words cannot control himself and is undeserving of respect. When journalists want you to make mistakes, they instigate you to say too much, they snuff words out of you, till you commit errors and say the things you should not say. All is to make you come down. 

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The human tongue is a beast only a few can master. It always wants to break out of its cage. Should it not be tamed, it runs wild and will bring you bitterness. Power is never given to those that trample the treasure of words. Even the bible acknowledges the dangers of an unbridled tongue. While your tongue can take you to greatness, it can also drag you out of greatness. It can make you and it can also mar you. You have to be very careful of what your tongue is doing on your behalf.

Leonardo da Vinci says, ‘the oyster opens completely when the moon is full; and when the crab sights it, it throws a stone into it, and the oyster cannot close anymore, so it can serve as food for the crab. Such would be the end of those who open their mouth too much and put themselves at the mercy of their listener’. The oyster thinks it is showing its radiance, its strength, its ability, however, it is only exposing its own weakness. While doing that, the crab sights it, and throws a stone to hook the mouth, inability to close the mouth ends the life of the oyster. That is similar to the words of a garrulous person; words are like eggs, which when spoken, you can’t recall. People hold on to the words and they would not let you have a break.

Cardinal de Retz says, ‘it is more damaging for a person to say foolish things than to do them’. Never try to impress people with your words. When you try to do that, you first sound good, then you start sounding foolish, because you trying to sustain your sweet words. Therefore, say just little.

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Power is a game of appearances; when you say less, you appear greater and more powerful than you are. People hardly predict your next steps and they don’t know just where to attack you. They think you are more powerful than they think earlier. Your silence makes people uncomfortable. When you carefully control the things you reveal to people about yourself, they can’t see through your intentions and your meaning, and therefore, not accuse you of what you never said. Silence is a powerful skill in the hands of politicians.

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Your short answers and silences put your enemies and detractors on the defensive; they fill in the gaps of the words you said and start to make only implications in your words. While doing that, they instead reveal their own weaknesses. The less you say, the more profound and mysterious you appear to people looking for your fall. Remember the story of Joseph in the bible. His problems came as a result of his inability to control his tongue and limit his words. Whenever we are happy, we tend to say more. While doing that, we handled over ourselves to the enemies. Andy Warhol says, ‘you have more power when you shut up’.

Always learn the lesson; once your words are out, they can’t be taken back. Keep your words under control. When they are in you, they are your own, when you spill them out, your words belong to everyone. They hold you responsible for everything you say. At the little moment you are being sarcastic, the satisfaction you getting at that point with your words, you will definitely pay for them.

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Before you talk, always let your subordinates say their mind. When you don’t speak, people speak. When people speak, you know them and their intentions. Han-fei-tzu says, ‘when I am silent, the people speak. When the people speak, I understand their real intentions. Should the sovereign not be tactful and mysterious, the ministers will take and take’.

Though in some cases, you should not be silent. Your silence may raise suspicion and insecurity. When your words are not clear enough also, you are open to so many interpretations. When you practice silence, practice with caution.

The lessons    Law 1    Law 2   Law 3   Law 4

Credit: Robert Greene

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