Saturday, May 23, 2009

The quality of speech

Did you ever think about what makes interesting conversation? I mean, it's all just talk. We know that we lose interest if someone gives too much detail or if we are interrupted at every turn. But are there any lynch pins or keys that make speech compelling?

It turns out that there are some fundamentals that can be described and one philosopher came up with just such a description. Paul Grice suggested four maxims of speech; it should be truthful, relevant and clear, with enough information to be understood (but not more than is needed).

Maxim of Quality
  • Only say what you believe to be true and what you have evidence for.
Maxim of Quantity
  • Make your contribution informative but not more informative than is necessary.
Maxim of Relevance
  • The contribution should be relevant or it should be explained how it is not relevant.
Maxim of Manner
  • Speech should be brief, clear and unambiguous

Clearly, Grice's maxims address only content and not other elements of communication such as attitude, body language and etiquette (e.g., interrupting). But just knowing these maxims has made me more conscious of how I communicate. Even as I write this, I am thinking about the quality of this post. Was it clear, concise and relevant? You tell me.