How to Supercharge Your Learning and Self-Improvement: The Golden Ratio of Communication

Mike Sturm
Personal Growth
Published in
5 min readAug 2, 2017


One of my favorite pieces of ancient wisdom comes from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus:

We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.

Sure, that may not be the real reason we have 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 the medium, but the general scheme is the same.

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

Simply Put, 2:1 Is Key

If we expand Epictetus’s aphorism 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 twice as much as you transmit.

In other words, you should listen twice as much as you speak, read twice as much as you write, and pay twice 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. The difference between the two 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 2:1 ratio helps to remind us that we should be communicating in a way that helps to enrich us, and to build relationships.

Why Aim for a 2:1 Ratio

There are 2 ways that a 2:1 receipt to transmission ratio will help you. The

  1. When you pay more attention than you attract, you enrich yourself much more.
    The more you listen, the more you learn. The more you read, the more you learn. The more you focus on others, rather than yourself, the more you understand them. Knowledge and understanding (not necessarily the same thing) provide the foundation for self-improvement. How ironic that they can be gained most effectively by paying more attention to others and the work of others than on yourself and your own work.

    What’s interesting is that even if you’re inclined to talk a lot and write a lot (as I am), this 2:1 ratio is of great benefit to you. The more you read, the better you write. The more you listen (real, active listening) the better you talk. Here “better” does not mean “more”, but rather, it means “of a higher quality”. So if you read a lot, you will tend to learn more things. You’ll have more ideas to connect with other ideas you’ve read about, and you’ll be exposed to more styles of writing. All of that gets stored in your mind, and can only help in your writing. The same mechanism is at work for speaking. If you engage in real active listening constantly, you can get clued into how to speak more effectively.
  2. When you pay more attention to others, you create better relationships.
    Your life is built on the foundation of your relationships. The better the relationships you have with others, the more fulfilling your life tends to be. There really is no better way to cultivate deep relationships with others — both personal and professional — than paying attention to others. Let them talk more, read what they write, when you’re together, make things about them, rather than you. If you’re really putting forth the effort, they will recognize it and appreciate it.

    The appreciation that others feel for your generosity will come back to help you down the road. People will be more likely to help you, more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt, and more likely to excuse when you make mistakes. All of these things are essential in achieving both personal and professional goals. It should go without saying that you need other people in order to really do well in your life — no matter what your goals. Simply put, a 2:1 communication ratio is one of the most effective ways to really hook in with other people in a deep and enriching way.

Quick Tips on Better 2:1 Communication

  • Ask more questions
    When you’re talking with others, try to ask more questions than making statements. Ask follow-ups. Try keeping that up for a while, and really absorb the answers you get.
  • Wait 3 beats after someone else speaks before you speak
    People are often willing to speak more than we let them. If given the chance, they will elaborate on what they’ve already said. For you, the receiver, this means gaining more information, and a better understanding.
  • Say slightly less than you feel the urge to
    Like I said in the previous bullet point, people are often willing to keep talking if given the chance. In order to be more receptive, fight that urge. Make simpler statements. If people would like clarification or explanation, let them ask —if they do that, they’ll be more interested in what you say anyway.
  • Make 3 observations about others right away, and make it a habit
    To help you more effectively pay attention to others, rather than trying to make yourself the center of interactions, make it a habit to be more observant of others. A great way to do this is to make 3 observations about others right when you begin to interact with them. Are they wearing their hair differently? Do they have new clothes? How’s their posture? What is their facial expression telling you? Is their tone of voice relaxed or tense? There are endless observations you can make — and they all help to better solidify your interactions in your own memory. That makes for effective learning and retention, so it also benefits you!

There are more tips, but these should get you started. Remember, communication is about giving and receiving. The more generous you are, the better that communication is — for you and for others.

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Mike Sturm
Personal Growth

Creator: — A simpler personal productivity system. Writing about productivity, self-improvement, business, and life.