Communication is the very wellspring of human connection, full stop. Without it, relationships wouldn’t exist, let alone evolve or thrive. The way we express ourselves, share information, and speak to others not only creates the reality we share but builds the reality we individually experience, as well. We all live in a world where communication happens at a breakneck pace, and it can be so easy to take this vital aspect of our humanity for granted. How meaningful can our communication be when we’re replying to texts, emails, social media posts, and phone calls sometimes before we ever even speak to someone?
Trying on the wisdom of ancient philosophers like Socrates—who existed long before talk-to-text—can help us simplify and maybe even purify our conversations, whether digital or analog. A case in point is Socrates’ Triple Filter. If you’re unfamiliar, it is a remarkably timeless tool for elevating our conversations from mere exchanges or digital quips to a more meaningful dialogue. This philosophy can enrich and refine the way we communicate in the digital age, but it can also bring a level of thoughtfulness and maybe even deeper intimacy to our relationships.
The Triple Filter Test is broken down into the following three questions:
Filter 1: Is it True?
This is a big one, especially in an era where information travels at the speed of light, and there is no immediate ability to fact-check. The first filter challenges us to pause and really reflect on the veracity of our words. Before sharing anything, we can ask: Is this really true? This filter encourages a commitment to accuracy, fostering an environment where trust and credibility are upheld in our communication. In a relationship, asking ourselves if what we’re sharing is true can have a more nuanced meaning. Outside of asking ourselves if it’s literally truthful, we can also pause and ask if it is authentic.
Let’s say your partner overhears a snippet of a phone conversation you’re having and jumps to the conclusion that you were criticizing them when really you were voicing frustration about a colleague. Instead of reacting defensively, you can state the true context and even begin a conversation about why your partner would be so fearful of you talking about them behind their back. It could be an insecurity you need to know about! This not only applies to the first filter but offers an opportunity for authentic discussion and intimacy.
Or maybe you were complaining about your partner and need to address it with them. Before being brutally honest, though, be sure to apply the second filter…
Filter 2: Is it Good?
Beyond committing ourselves to being honest, now we need to evaluate the goodness of our communication. Is it kind, empathetic, and constructive? Here, Socrates invites us to infuse our words with respect and positivity, creating a ripple effect that contributes to a more compassionate and understanding social fabric. Kindness may not be easy to access in every interaction, but it is both possible and necessary. Kindness takes on many forms; it doesn’t necessarily mean being sweet; it can mean being decent; it can mean holding back a negative comment, speaking softly, or even just listening.
You know that awkward feeling that arises when you’re at a dinner—or, worse, a family gathering—and someone wanders into controversial discussion territory? Suddenly, heated words are flying, and things are getting a little personal! This is a time for the second filter. Even one person sharing respectfully and thoughtfully can instantly diffuse a tense moment.
Remember that old adage: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all? That is foundational to this filter.
Filter 3: Is it Useful?
At this point in modern society, we are truly bombarded by a constant stream of information coming to us via endless platforms. Much of it is transient, superficial, and forgettable. Think about it: on any given day, what percentage of content that you take in is actually useful—or even necessary? Socrates’ third filter prompts us to evaluate the usefulness of our words and what we share. Is what we’re communicating relevant? By prioritizing utility, we can ensure our communication carries value and substance. This filter encourages us to distill our communication and conversations, centering them on meaning, positivity, and connection.
If a friend is lamenting to you about how their toddler won’t stop covering the walls with streaks of crayon, but you don’t even have kids, any advice you offer is probably not going to help! Praising their patience, empathizing with their frustration, and expressing your confidence in them would be way more useful.
The Stoics didn’t have Instagram, but their tools for effective communication can really serve us. By applying the principles of truth, goodness, and usefulness to our words, we can transform communication from a mere exchange into real dialogue that fosters understanding, connection, and positive change. I invite you to embrace this ancient wisdom in all of your interactions, striving for a more intentional and impactful way of communicating with one another. It might even change the way you speak to yourself, which is, after all, the most important relationship that you’ll ever have.