Raymond S. Nickerson in his article, How we Know-and Sometimes Misjudge-What Others Know: Imputing One’s Knowledge to Others, reminds us that, “To communicate effectively with other people, one must have a reasonably accurate idea of what they do and do not know that is pertinent to the communication” (p. 737).
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Therefore, for effective communication one has to have a clear understanding of what the listeners know in relation to the subject. The speaker has to find out how much information the audience has or does not have on the subject matter before the discussion begins.
To avoid controversy and uneasiness, the speaker should not make too many assumptions about listeners’ knowledge. Hence, the speaker should not presume that the audience has too much or too little knowledge on the subject matter. The speaker should offer sufficient knowledge to his audience ensuring its neither too much nor too little (Nickerson 1999).
The author further refers to a fundamental rule of communication according to Paul Grice’s Gricean View. It suggests that when the speaker assumes the audience has information then it should not be passed (Grice 1975). This will prevent the audience from feeling that they are being viewed as less intelligent. Paul Grice was a British teacher well known for his skills of Philosophy in linguistics and artificial intelligence (Nickerson 1999).
Nickerson (1999) reminds us that a speaker should convey information according to the level of understanding of the audience. A level too high for the audience will leave them confused and without sufficient knowledge. On the other hand, a level too low or too simple makes the audience feel patronized. Therefore, when a speaker overestimates or underestimates the knowledge of his audience he or she is likely to cause difficulties in communication (p. 737).
The speaker should evaluate what he or she knows and compare it what he or she assumes the audience knows before conveying any information. A critical analysis of information and the audience are essential so that effective communication can be achieved.
Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. New York: Academic Press.
Nickerson, S.R. (1999). How we Know-and Sometimes Misjudge-What Others Know: Imputing One’s Knowledge to Others. Psychological Bulletin 125.6 (1999): p737.