The first rule of rhetoric: Let us start with the basics of speaking.The fundamental role that is mostly neglected
The first rule of rhetoric
Does everyone have to say something about everything? In my opinion, the most important rule of rhetoric and good communication style is that those who have nothing to say should shut up.
Those who have nothing to say should shut up.
It is worthwhile to consider the most important rule of rhetoric. And it isn’t a new one.
The first rule of good style – almost sufficient in itself – is that you have something to say.
I had an otherwise very esteemed colleague who used to express himself regularly every 15 minutes. And he did this largely independently of the topic and the relevance of the personal contribution to it. He had read in a career guide that behavior would be good to progress with his career.
With cause and effect, it is sometimes such a thing. He has succeeded well with his career, and therefore he will probably consider this recommendation right. I think, however, that he was able to make a career with his other knowledge and skills. His verbal contributions in meetings, however, were no pleasure for everyone else involved. It was a direct violation of the 1st rule of rhetoric: Who has nothing to say, better shut up! Or in the words of Abraham Lincoln: “It is better to remain silent and be suspected of being an idiot than to speak and thereby remove all doubts.
With some distance to this article, I tend to relativize my thoughts. I still stand by the basic statement, but the words can also be misunderstood. After all, I am a great friend of the idea that speakers express their thoughts while forming an opinion and sharing it with others. This can be very enriching for everyone involved. It is not about one’s ego, but about contributing something.
So every speaker is invited to think about his or her intention beforehand.
Those who do not speak are not heard, and even those who speak up are not always successful. There are a few more steps that need to be mastered.
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Published: May 2, 2015
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: August 20th, 2023
German version: https://www.karstennoack.de/erste-regel-der-rhetorik/