“Rules are meant to be broken.”
“Any fool can make a rule and any fool will mind it.”
“Rules are for children.”
“We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn’t obey the rules.”
Rules exist for a reason
Rules are often solutions to problems we have forgotten about. There are certain rules I think are excellent. For example, French chefs have a rule called “mis en place” that means you get out EVERYTHING you need for your recipe, before you start mixing ingredients.
Another rule I like is the one about not calling people after 9 pm. It’s nice to shut down and relax.
While many rules are better broken, there is one rule in communication that can totally elevate your game. This easy as “cut and paste” rule is called The Rule of 3.
The Rule of 3 comes from writers’ wisdom. It states that ideas or stories presented in threes are more memorable to the listener. We like patterns. We like brevity. We like the Rule of 3.
Stories have 3 parts: beginning, middle, end. You get 3 strikes in baseball. A stool has 3 legs. Productivity experts recommend choosing three tasks to do each day. Thanks to the rule of three you can cross-multiply to solve certain math problems. Rejoice!
In music, the sonata form has 3 parts: exposition, development and recapitulation.
In business there are usually three main competitors in any industry. In selling, it’s easier to get a signature when you’ve presented three options. More than that overwhelms.
Applying this rule to any communication when you need a response, can literally make your life better. That’s because it’s instant structure for your message. Humans thrive with structure. Structure + Brevity = Easy to Remember!
7 Uses for the Rule of 3
- If you’re setting up a meeting, give 3 options for the time and date. By making it easier to respond, you increase the chances of a quick agreement. Even if none of the 3 choices work for the other person, you’ve still made it easier for her to respond.
2. For a presentation, make 3 key points. (No one can remember more than that.) If you think you have more than 3 points, see if you can combine two into a single point. This structure forces you to prioritize.
3. If you’re giving feedback, hammer 3 key messages. Depending on the situation, the person on the receiving end may be stressed out and experiencing brain freeze. Condensing your comments to 3 points helps the receiver assimilate the information.
4. If you want to look pulled-together, wear no more than 3 colors (including your shoes.) I learned this from stylist Audrey Coyne in her video, How to Look Chic and Always Pulled Together. This practice makes deciding among too many options so much easier!
5. Any time you need someone to make a decision, give them 3 options.
This includes asking your 5-year-old what he wants from the menu. A waiter and I once waited 10 minutes while a mom of a toddler went through to explain each menu item to the poor child. I’m still recovering from the trauma.
When asking your boss, (hopefully a full adult), you make everyone’s life easier by presenting your conundrum with 3 options. Even if the boss goes with something completely different from your 3 choices, you’ve proven your superior intelligence.
Bringing it down to three options means you’ve thought about it, done your homework and presented the best paths of action. That structure actually triggers better thinking in your audience.
6. Overcoming Negativity Bias means turning your focus to your successes. (Here’s my Forbes article, Four Ways Negativity Bias Slows You Down and What to Do About It.) Become more optimistic AND resilient by writing down 3 wins each afternoon. If you lead a team, add this to your weekly meeting agenda.
7. In crafting an informational email to your community, include three fixed paragraphs: 1) your wins, 2) your challenges and 3) what you want your team to be thinking about. The purpose of this email is to increase your visibility – this 3-paragraph email makes it easy for you to promote your team’s accomplishments.
There you have it. Keep it to 3 options, 3 colors, 3 points. Three strikes and you’re OUT!