Maxims for Effective Communication

Effective Communication

In the 1960s, philosopher of language Paul Grice proposed four maxims of communication. At first these maxims appear almost obvious; but they are in fact a fundamental guide for all professional communication, be it in the form of a presentation or otherwise.

Although the communication maxims are useful as a simple checklist when preparing to give a presentation or a speech, Grice actually posited that we all use these rules automatically. According to Grice, it is only through the cooperative use of these maxims that we are able to successfully communicate with each other at all.

By adhering to the maxims, a listener is able to relatively successfully infer meaning from another’s communication; and a speaker is able to assume that the listener has heard a meaning close to the one they intended.

Essentially, in order for communication to work there must a tacitly assumed ground of cooperation between a communicator and an audience.

By bearing these maxims in mind when preparing a presentation or business communication, you ensure that your audience stand the best possible chance of understanding the message you mean to communicate. We can all identify instances when one of the maxims is broken, often with calamitous results!

Grice's Maxims

Maxim of Quality

Be Truthful

Do not say what you believe to be false.

Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.


Maxim of Quantity

Quantity of Information

Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).

Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.


Maxim of Relation


Be relevant.


Maxim of Manner

Be Clear

Avoid obscurity of expression.

Avoid ambiguity.

Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).

Be orderly.


David Windle