Restraint in Communication


The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, a core text in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), extolls the virtue of staying quiet: “Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument. The same goes for sulking or silent scorn.” While AA is a program of action, inaction—especially when it comes to speech or writing—can sometimes be the best course to follow. This piece explores the value of silence and how it contributes to more effective communication and healthier relationships.

The Value of Silence

Silence can be more impactful and beneficial than impulsive or anger-infused chatter. Frequently, people feel an innate need to respond when a reaction isn’t even necessary. It’s a hard-to-break habit, and a pertinent adage—often misattributed to Mark Twain—comes to mind: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

The Dangers of Hasty Responses

The same principle of restraint applies to written responses, especially in today’s digital world. Hitting the ‘send’ button prematurely can lead to undesirable consequences that, once in the digital realm, are nearly impossible to retract.

The Art of Mindful Communication

The solution lies in cultivating mindfulness when communicating. Strive to remain centered in your serenity and purpose when listening or reading. Practice active listening, pay attention, and maintain eye contact. Learn to appreciate pauses in conversations and resist the urge to fill the silence.

Managing Negative Emotions

If you find yourself getting irritated during a conversation or while reading an email, slow down. Breathe. Remember not to take things personally. Observe your posture, and don’t allow yourself to be pulled into others’ conscious or unconscious agendas.

Navigating the Nuances of Written Communication

While restraint is generally advised, one caveat in written communication is that sometimes not responding can exacerbate issues. People often concoct scenarios to explain a lack of response, which can be way off the mark. A timely, simple acknowledgment can prevent misinterpretation and build bridges of understanding.

Practice Makes Perfect

Communication is at the heart of forming and maintaining relationships. Prioritize improving your communication, practice these principles, and you may find yourself developing skills for a lifetime of better personal relations.

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