The Asymmetry of Human Communication

Posted on May 7, 2011| by Geoffrey Tumlin

The fundamental asymmetry of human communication is this:  Building good relationships takes time, but damaging them doesn’t.

The type of strong, thriving, and enriching relationships that we all desire can only be built slowly, over weeks and months and years.  But we can seriously damage the very same relationships in seconds with ill-advised or emotionally charged words.

Because of this asymmetry, we should approach human communication with the utmost care and reverence.  There is nothing more precious than our closest relationships.  And we build, protect, and maintain our closest relationships through our communication.

To safeguard your closest relationships, tattoo the following question in your head:  “Do I really need to have this conversation?”

Chances are, the more you are burning to have a conversation, the more that the conversation is likely to burn you. A funny thing about humans—and there are many funny things—is that we can’t wait to have the conversations that we shouldn’t have and we find an infinite amount of reasons to put off the conversations that we should have.

In recognition of the fundamental asymmetry of human communication, and to counteract our tendency to leap into the very conversations that we shouldn’t have, it is good policy to ask yourself frequently if communication is actually required.  You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that no communication is often the best communication advice in town.

Sometimes, the best way to improve your communication is to stop talking.

It must have been a lizard who proffered the myth of “thick skin” because the fact of the matter is that words have enormous impact.  Get your words right before you start talking because your closest relationships deserve your very best communication.  And when in doubt, do not hesitate to put off the conversation for another day—or forever.  In the words of novelist Ambrose Bierce, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”