Two Ears and One Mouth

by Jade Handy on December 19, 2011

“We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” -Epictetus (AD 55 – c.135)

What a great quote… and a great sales tip!  And, that was a long time ago.  But, it’s as true today as it was back then.  Timeless.

What I especially like, in addition to the overall concept, is the specifics of the original quote.  I remembered this quote as “God gave you two ears and one mouth and you should use them accordingly.”  More of a rules version.

The original version says “so we can.”  Which, to me, is a big difference because it implies the benefit of listening twice as much as we speak vs. “have to” or “should.”  Additionally, it implies this ratio is not automatic.  It takes purposeful effort, by choice.

This two-ears-one-mouth approach to effective communication and persuasion is a great reminder to listen more than we speak.  If you listen closely, people will tell you everything you need to persuade them.  Really.  In their words, in their questions, in their frustrations, in their requests, in their suggestions, in their tonality, in their pauses, in their deletions, distortions, and generalizations you’ll find tidbits of data that you can utilize.

This two-ears-one-mouth philosophy is, also, the backbone of brevity, and brevity, as you well know, is key.

Brian Pagán of the blog, A UX State of Mind, at www.brianpagan.net, really has explained this concept of brevity better than I have, here in this article.  He articulately and visually presents The Three Bears continuum of too much, too little, just right.

I would argue, though, that clarity is the sweet spot and verbosity is opposite brevity, but only after I listened to him state his reasoning!

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“We were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking.” –Larry Alan Nadig, Ph.D.

In the book of James in verses 1:19-20 he tells us that we are to be quick to listen with our two ears and slow to speak with our one mouth. -Read more: wiki.answers.com

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” –Baba Ram Dass

You have two ears and one mouth… and two fingers in case I hear this again without any humorous twist on the end.  -Jade Handy #reformcliche  two ears and one mouth joke

Photo credit: GettingStronger.org

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  • Brian

    Hey Jade,

    Thanks for referencing my post on brevity! I also agree with your point about “clarity” being the sweet spot and something like “verbosity” opposite “brevity.”

    Maybe it’s better if the two circles are “short” and “exhaustive,” and the sweet spot is “clear.”

    Best,
    Brian

  • Pingback: Brevity vs. Detail: The Sweet Spot of Understanding()

  • Great Post!

  • Thanks, Brian!

  • Cool! Thanks Adam. You’re doing some great work out there, btw.

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