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The Communication List

Here Are 10 Maxims Everyone Needs To Know.

By Thomas J. Roach

There are some things everyone should know about communication. They are universal truths that make up the Swiss Army knife of human interaction. It doesn’t matter if you own the quarry, answer the phone or deliver the gravel, you will avoid more obstacles, win more arguments and live a more stress-free life if you know these 10 maxims:

  1. 1. You can’t get paid enough to lie.
    Aristotle was right. Your reputation is your greatest asset. There is no problem bad enough and no bribe great enough to make a lie profitable. It doesn’t matter how persuasive or fact based your communication; if you can’t be trusted your arguments become worthless.
  2. 2. What you think you know is more dangerous than what you don’t know.
    All kinds of bad things can happen when you wrongly assume you understand others and that they understand you. Asking questions and monitoring feedback are essential counterpoints to communicating. Professional communicators know this, the rest of the world gets surprised a lot.
  3. 3. If you don’t want it repeated, don’t say it.
    Once you tell a secret, what happens next is out of your control. It doesn’t matter if it is your best friend or a reporter. People forget the promise, can be called before a judge, or can decide to do what you did and trust just one person with the information.
  4. 4. Information is the world’s most valuable commodity.
    Often it has value in and of itself, and it is what gives value to inanimate objects like gold, Van Gogh paintings and Pez dispensers.
  5. 5. The more information you give out, the more you get back.
    This is the opposite of the strategy for accumulating wealth. When you share information with others, it makes them want to share information with you. A rule of thumb is don’t wait for a good reason to share information. If you don’t have a good reason not to share what you know, then pass it on.
  6. 6. People understand, remember and apply information better if it is conveyed as a story.
    I use stories from my personal experience as examples of theories in my lectures at the university. When I run into alumni years after they took my class, and I ask them what they remember, it is always the story.
  7. 7. You can get away with saying almost anything to someone as long as you truly have their best interests in mind.
    Often when we have negative feedback for others, we wait until their problematic behavior becomes unbearable, and we deliver the message maliciously. The ability to provide an ongoing mix of positive and negative feedback delivered in the proper frame of mind is the difference between being a mentor and being a boss.
  8. 8. Advice is usually only effective if someone asks for it.
    The trick is getting someone to ask.
  9. 9. It is almost always acceptable to ask a question.
    I have stopped traffic cops from writing tickets, tamed my mother’s wrath and engaged the most disinterested students by asking questions. There is a hard-to-resist, tacit social rule that says we should stop what we are doing and respond every time a question is asked.
  10. 10. All forms of communication are not equal.
    Some things are best said face-to-face, some in small groups, and some through mass media. Communication is context dependent, and the most important contextual elements have to do with the number of people present and media used to reach them.

Through trial and error we spend our lives learning how to communicate. What these ten maxims have in common is an understanding that communication is a flexible, nuanced process that isn’t bound by logic, doesn’t necessarily reflect intentions, and may do harm as easily and as effortlessly as it expresses joy and compassion.

Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..