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Communication in Crisis / Maxims of effective communication (Quantity, Quality, Relation and Manner)

Effective communication

The willingness to understand each other in intergrop encounter is contingent on the perception of the intents of the outgroup member. The parties wiil be more apt to succeed reframing their relationship into trust if they exhibit effective communication that makes interpretation of the overt and covert communicative behavor of the other in terms of expectation of reward and hope instead of harm and fear. Effective communication results in perception of the other free of paranoid biases that are not infrequent in intergroup encounter.

Speaking about effective communication as a means of resolving intergroup conflict and social crisis Deutsch stresses the aspect of honesty. Dishonesty, attempts to mislead or to deceive are likely to unleash suscpicion, doubt. fear and ambivalence that make the communication malignant.

The basic condition of the effective communication is to insist that we all belong to one moral community and we all entitled to justice.

The Cooperative Principle

The process of communication between parties does not normally consist of a succession of disconnected units of discourse and it would be considered as pathological if it did. In order to ensure effectiveness the units of discourse are characteristically results of cooperative efforts. Each party has to recognize that without a common purpose or at least a mutually accepted direction no uderstanding can be expected. According to Grice during the process of communication some possible discourse moves would be excluded as undesirable and unsuitable. In order to ensure effectiveness in communication a general principle can be formulated that the parties will be expected to observe. The principle can be formulated as follows: „Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you engaged” (Grice, 1989.p.26).

We might agree with Grice labeling this principle as the Cooperative Principle. Dismissal of the Principle pf Cooperation results in effects stemming from the will to transform the other into enemy.

Specific maxims

The are four features of discourse that are essentially connected with the Cooperative Principle. Effective communication, in fact, depends on the presence of all four features identified by Grice as Qantity, Quality, Relation and Manner.

These features and the communication implicatures connected with them, are to serve a maximally effective exchange of information. Observance of the maxims derived from the Cooperation Principle could be considered as a kind of contractual relationship which helps to bridge the divide between human beings so characteristically called by Hobbes as „bellum omnium contra omnes.”

Adherence to the maxims reflects reasonability providing mutual profitability for the parties who otherwise would not be able to give and receive information, influencing and being influenced by others in the course of the communication.

It is now time to show each of the maxims involved in effective communication.


The maxim of Quantity requires to send an optimal quantity of information not exceeding the necessary amount needed for understanding but not being shortened either. As Grice puts it, „Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the curren purpose of the exchange)”. The Quality clausule, however, warns that the contribution should not be more informative than is requred.

The maxim is simple and clear. One has not to be underinformative or overinformative unless she or he wants to be confusing, misleading. Too much and too little information are equally detrimental.


The maxim of Quality sets the rule of honesty stating that „Try to make your contribution one that is true”.

You can open the (larger) image in new window.Ferenc Deák: "If it was up to me, there would be only one media law: no lying!"deak_full.jpgFerenc Deák: "If it was up to me, there would be only one media law: no lying!"

Truth of course is not coceived as an episthemological requirement.It simply implies that the parties interested in effective exchange of information should not say what they believe to be false. This is a clear anti-Machiavellian maxim. The related specific maxim requires avoidance of saying that cannot be substantiated by adequate evidence.


The maxim of Relation is terse. It is as follows: „Be relevant!” Relevance of course is far from being an issue easy to deal with. Relevance being a contested realm of phenomena cannot be taken for granted. Different kinds of relevance and focuses of relevance there may circulate in the course of communication making the matter of effective communication exceedingly difficult.


The maxim of Manner is related not to what is said but to how what is to be said. According to Grice it is formulated in one short sentence: „Be perspicious!”

Being perspicious means to avoid obscurity of expression and ambivalence of formulation. Brevity and orderliness are also impled by the maxim of Manner.


Explotation is a procedure by which violation of some of the maxims is used purposefully so that the receiver is entitled to assume that the Cooperative Principle generally is not violated.

Flouting can result from infringement of the maxim of Quantity. „Sex is sex” or other totally noninformative remarks are informative at the level of what is implicated. Hitler’s famous joke made at the expense of Roosevelt infringed the maxim by overinformativeness when in a mass demonstration he said: „Mr Roosevelt asks what assurances be given to him that German armed forces will not attack, and above all not invade the territory or possessions of the following independenc nations?” In continuation he started to enumerate the names of the nations till the audience bursted into laughter.

The husband of X has a relationship with the wife of B. X and her audience both know this. X says „B is a busy fellow”. Irony stems from the fact that is obvious to X and her audience that what X said she does not believe. The contradiction between what was said and what was meant results in irony.

There are many examples of expoitation demonstrating the power of the Cooperative Principle over violations of the individual maxims of effective communications. In crisis,the Cooperative Principle itself is violated.

Observance of the specific maxims in crisis communication

It might be argued that the observance of the individual maxims is not equally important. It seems that the maxim of Quality can have an overwhelming importance and the other maxims come into effect only if the parties are not lying to each other. On the other hand experience shows that the violation of any of the maxims will certainly result in confusion and inability to understand.

The first statement transgressed the maxim of Qantity stating simply the occurence of an accident in the Chenobyl Nuclear Plant. The second statement asserted that the “radiation situation at the electric power station and the adjacent territory has now been stabilized, and the necessary medical aid is being given to those affected.” This statement violates all four maxims being underinfomative, containing false information, concealing the relevance and using obscure and ambivalent phrases making impossibe the full understandig of the event. The third statement continued this course saying that the reactor was already in a „smothered state” ” that cleanup work was underway, and that radiation levels were reduced. No figures were provided in any of the statements. (Rubin, 1997).

photo gallery of the legacy of Chernobyl (via

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Legacy of Chernobyl
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You can open the (larger) image in new window.The massive, concrete Sarcophagus around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plantcsernobil4_full.jpgThe massive, concrete Sarcophagus around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

The infringement of any of the maxims of effective communication in crisis results in deterioriating the situation turning it into chaos. Missing the required information, being exposed to lies, lacking relevance and expressing with undue prolixity taken together results in the impression of secrecy and suspicion that produces panic instead of cooperative efforts aimed at to finding solution.

"As we move towards what is an increasingly likelihood of seeing Sandy make landfall in New Jersey, I am urging all New Jerseyans to take every possible and reasonable precaution to ready themselves for the storm’s potential impact. That means having an emergency action plan for their families and other loved ones who may require assistance, and avoiding unnecessary risks in the severe weather, including staying off of the roads,” said Governor Christie. “At the state level, we are taking immediate steps to prepare for the storm’s impact and ensure that state, local and county governments have the tools they need to manage and respond in a coordinated way. With this, government at every level can respond more effectively to conditions on the ground, activate emergency operations plans, and ensure that resources are being marshaled to assist and protect the public through this storm." (Christie, 2012).

Hurricane Sandy was the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season, as well as the second-costliest hurricane in United States history. Classified as the eighteenth named storm, tenth hurricane and second major hurricane of the year, Sandy was a Category 3 storm at its peak intensity when it made landfall in Cuba.

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The destruction of Hurricane Sandy
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You can open the (larger) image in new window.The devastating power of Hurricane Sand (via Foxnews)sandy_full.jpgThe devastating power of Hurricane Sand (via Foxnews)
You can open the (larger) image in new window.New Jersey's northern shores after the hitsandy2_full.jpgNew Jersey's northern shores after the hit

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