What are the 7 Deadly Sins of Speech?

The pitfalls of bad communication contain the seeds of their own destruction.

What are the 7 Deadly Sins of Speech?
“Vintage Art Deco Communication Plaque, Painted Repwood, 7 Inches in Diameter, Circa 1930s” by France1978 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Have you ever listened to someone speaking and found yourself enraptured? I mean, really and truly fell under their spell?

I’m sure you’ve experienced the opposite of rapture: we’ve all listened to that person who comes across like nails on a chalkboard.

What about someone you trust, even if you don’t know them well? If you’ve ever voted for a politician, followed an actor’s career through their interviews, or enjoyed a stand-up comedian, then you know what I’m talking about.

Likewise, there are some people who have positions of power, but we just can’t stand them. Maybe they’ve done some good things but, for some reason, we just cannot get over something innate about the way they come across.

Julian Treasure, a renowned communications leader, gave a talk in 2013 that isolated the communications-centered reasons we have for these opinions, what he jokingly referred to as the seven deadly sins.

The seven communication sins

  1. Gossip: To talk badly about someone beyond their presence.

We all know how terrible it feels to hear that people in our life have been speaking ill of us, even if they did not necessarily mean to harm us with their words.

But gossip has a way of escaping closed rooms. Anyone who is willing to listen to gossip is going to be willing to spread gossip. That means that people who know you listen to gossip have one huge reason not to trust you to keep anything about their life in confidence.

2. Judging: To listen and speak only with judgement.

Judgement is easy to fall into if you think the choices someone makes are bad ones, but your judgement is only going to make them burrow deeper into their beliefs.

At the very least, they won’t trust you as a person who is willing to give them a fair hearing.

3. Negativity: The inability to express positive and hopeful thoughts.

Life is suffering, as Buddha said, but life isn’t about wallowing in the experience of suffering.

If we only express the worst thoughts to those around us, we make them feel as if we only value them so long as we can fill their time with our stress and pain.

4. Complaining: “Viral misery.”

Negativity in communication can be passive, but complaining is an active form of negativity.

Complaining can create the feeling of progress (railing against injustices feels good) but when it stops being an occasional way to let off steam it becomes a way of avoiding the hard work of enacting real change — just another way of avoiding the problem.

5. Excuses: The lack of responsibility-taking and the casting of blame.

It’s easy to feel like taking responsibility will harm us, but when casting blame for our mistakes and deeds becomes a habit, we become a non-trustworthy person.

Worse, excuses stem from shame, and shame compounds itself into a serious social disorder unless dealt with early on.

6. Embroidery (Exaggeration): The thinning of the truth.

At its least offensive, exaggeration seems harmless, but the loss of specificity makes everything we say suspect (and therefore makes the way we think suspect).

At its worst, this becomes habitual outright lying. And, once a lie is told, shame a fear are likely to keep us in a self-perpetuating cycle of embroidery.

7. Dogmatism: The replacement of facts with opinions.

Dogma leads us down a path of only finding the answers we know we’re willing to find. Religions, politicians, and business leaders all try to get us to fall into this trap.

While some people will be swayed by the force of a strong personality, they are likely to feel additional anger (and shame) when the truth is revealed, and it’s clear that they’ve been misled.

Worse, if we’re holding on to dogma, we might mislead ourselves into believing our own charade, or find ourselves parroting the dogma of someone else, unable to break free of a cycle that harms everyone involved.

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, an independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider subscribing to a paid tier for as little as $2.50 per month!


Treasure, J. (2013). Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen | TED Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_how_to_speak_so_that_people_want_to_listen

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