What is Effective Communication? Is Talking Just Enough!

One of my favourite pieces of ancient wisdom:

We have two eyes, two ears and one mouth so that we can watch and listen twice as much as we talk.

That may or may not be the real reason for us having two eyes, 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 how the communication is done, but the general scheme is the same.

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

Simply makes the ratio, 4:1

If we expand this wisdom 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 four times as much as you transmit.

In other words, you should listen four times as much as you speak, read four times as much as you write, and pay four times 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. A few may actually be not bothered by this whole thing going on around them – will talk about them some other time. For now, let’s see the ones who are in this attention thing. The difference between getting and paying attention 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 4:1 ratio helps to remind us that we should be communicating in a way that helps to enrich us, and to build relationships.

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