When you write or talk, you do so with the purpose of conveying information to someone. The better you are at conveying this information, the better you will be able to get your point across. The following article will show you several principles of effective communication, which will enable you to convey information in the best way possible.
The maxims of conversation
Paul Grice was an eminent linguist, who researched the way people derive meaning from speech. In his work, Grice outlined the maxims of conversation, which describe how people should communicate when they want to make sure that they are properly understood. Here, you will learn how to use these maxims as guiding principles, which will help you communicate as effectively as possible.
Maxims of quantity (be informative)
Make your contribution as informative as is required- provide all the information which is necessary for the purpose of the current exchange; don’t omit critical information.
Do not make your contribution more informative than is required- avoid unnecessary details that don’t contribute to the purpose of the current exchange.
Maxims of quality (be truthful)
Do not say what you believe to be false– avoid including information which you believe might be wrong, unless there is some compelling reason to do so. If you do choose to include it, provide a disclaimer which shows your doubts about this information.
Do not say that for which you lack evidence- avoid including information that you can’t back up with evidence. Once again, if you do choose to include it, provide a disclaimer which shows your doubts about this information.
Maxim of relation (be relevant)
Be relevant- make sure that all the information you provide is relevant to the current exchange; omit irrelevant information.
Maxims of manner (be clear)
Avoid obscurity of expression- avoid language which makes it difficult to identify your main point or to understand it.
Avoid ambiguity- avoid ambiguous language which makes it difficult for your recipient to understand what exactly you’re trying to say.
Be brief- provide the information in a concise manner, that allows your recipient to focus on the key details.
Be orderly- provide the information in an order that makes sense, and makes it easy for your recipient to process it.
Implementing these principles
In a way, the maxims of conversation seem almost trivial, since they are all intuitive, and follow what common sense tells us our communication should be like. However, in reality, people often violate many of these maxims without realizing that they are doing so, which leads to miscommunication problems.
Therefore, in order to ensure that your communication is as effective and free of issues as possible, use these maxims as guiding principles, and abide by them when you are trying to convey information to others. Specifically, you should be thinking of these principles as items in a checklist, and try to make sure that you don’t violate any of them in your communication. As such, when communicating with someone, you should always be asking yourself:
- Am I including all the necessary information?
- Am I being as concise as possible, by omitting unnecessary details and irrelevant information?
- Am I certain that everything I am saying is true, and can be backed up with evidence? If not, am I sure that this information should be included, and did I provide a disclaimer showing my doubts about it?
- Am I using language that is clear and without any ambiguity?
- Am I presenting the information in a structured, well-organized, and logically-ordered manner?
If the answer to any of the above questions is “no”, then you should adjust your communication accordingly, in order to fix that specific issue.
You will likely discover that improving your communication by implementing all these principles takes a lot of work at first. If you want, you can make this process easier by focusing on only a few of the principles initially, and adding the others to your mental checklist later on. However, make sure to stick with it, as you will find that the benefits of abiding by these principles are well worth it, and that it gets much easier to do with practice.
Summary and conclusions
- There are several principles that you should follow in order to communicate as effectively as possible, whether you’re communicating in writing or in speech.
- Be informative: include as much information as is necessary for the purpose of the current exchange, and no more than that. That is, include all the critical information, and omit all the unnecessary details.
- Be truthful: include only information which you believe is true, and which can be backed up with evidence. If you choose to include information that you are unsure about, provide a disclaimer regarding your uncertainty.
- Be relevant: include only information that is relevant to the current exchange.
- Be clear: avoid ambiguous or obscure language, which makes it difficult for your recipient to understand the point that you are trying to make. In addition, present the information in the best way possible, by being concise, and by structuring it in an order that makes sense.