How to Supercharge Your Learning and Self-Improvement: The Golden Ratio of Communication

One of my favorite pieces of ancient wis­dom comes from the Sto­ic philoso­pher Epictetus:

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can lis­ten twice as much as we speak.

Sure, that may not be the real rea­son we have two ears and one mouth, but it reveals a use­ful pat­tern that we see repeat­ed in com­mu­ni­ca­tion in general.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion essen­tial­ly has two parts: trans­mis­sion and recep­tion. These will man­i­fest dif­fer­ent­ly depend­ing on the medi­um, but the gen­er­al scheme is the same.

  • Tex­tu­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tion: writ­ing and reading
  • Ver­bal Com­mu­ni­ca­tion: speak­ing and listening
  • Pic­to­r­i­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion: dis­play­ing and viewing

Simply Put, 2:1 Is Key

If we expand Epictetus’s apho­rism into a sug­ges­tion for how to more effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cate, we get some­thing like the following:

When it comes to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, you should work hard to receive twice as much as you transmit.

In oth­er words, you should lis­ten twice as much as you speak, read twice as much as you write, and pay twice as much atten­tion as you receive. Let me unpack that last one a bit actu­al­ly, as it’s a bit complex.

When around oth­ers, we can either be look­ing to get atten­tion, or we can be pay­ing atten­tion to those around us. The dif­fer­ence between the two is just like the dif­fer­ence between talk­ing and lis­ten­ing — though it expands far beyond the realm of ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It’s about your atti­tude as a com­mu­ni­ca­tor — your pur­pose for com­mu­ni­cat­ing. And a 2:1 ratio helps to remind us that we should be com­mu­ni­cat­ing in a way that helps to enrich us, and to build relationships.

Orig­i­nal Article

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