Communication suffers from this harmful paradox: the clearest signal we shouldn’t say something is usually an intense feeling that we should.

Examples of this contradiction abound in our daily lives: we fire off a stinging reply to an unappreciated email, damaging an important work relationship in the process; we can’t resist a witty comeback, even though it makes an argument with our spouse ten times worse; or, unable to tolerate the silence after delivering a product pitch, we continue talking and blow the sale.

The antidote to this highly counterproductive paradox is restraint. Restraint—the ability not to say something you really want to—is a hallmark of effective communication and is a silent relationship protector (see here for tips on building restraint.)

Restraint is especially important wherever criticisms or accusations enter a conversation, because at least one person must resist the urge to retaliate in order to prevent a quick and damaging escalation. Unfortunately, our combative Neanderthal instincts all too often prevent the only remaining peacemaker—the person who’s not already agitated—from applying the cure that can prevent relational damage.

But tendency doesn’t have to be destiny. We can control our responses, and when we do, our underlying relationships don’t suffer from unnecessary harm. Restraint prevents communication’s killer paradox from fatally damaging our relationships.

For more ideas on how to deal with the killer communication paradox, see Chapter 5 of Stop Talking, Start Communicating. Autographed copies are available online at Brace Books.

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