There are so many reasons why communication fails, but here's one you might have overlooked: When you aren't considerate of the recipient's needs, your message is likely to be missed.

I was reminded of this as I read Alexander McCall Smith's novel, The Sunday Philosophy Club. The novel is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and features as its main character a woman named Isabel Dalhousie, who edits a philosophy journal.

Isabel, a philosopher, thinks deeply about many issues. Here are her musings about manners inspired by the actions of a character named Toby.

Toby "had bad manners; not on the surface, where he thought, quite wrongly, that it counted, but underneath, in this attitude to others. Good manners depended on paying moral attention to others; it required one to treat them with complete moral seriousness, to understand their feelings and their needs. Some people, the selfish, had no inclination to do this, and it always showed. They were impatient with those whom they thought did not count: the old, the inarticulate, the disadvantaged. The person with good manners, however, would always listen to such people and treat them with respect."

In short, manners matter, especially when it comes to communication. This lack of respect (or dearth of matters) can take many forms, including:

  • Not getting to the point. You're tempted to share the whole history of your project, but most people want you to cut to the chase (of how your topic affects them).
  • Using terms and words that are difficult to understand.
  • Assuming people have been paying close attention all along; not providing context.
  • Choosing a communication channel because it's convenient for you (email, I'm looking at you), even if it doesn't work for the audience.
  • Responding to questions as if the questions are "dumb" or annoying.

I could go on, but you get the idea: If we don't respect the people we're communicating with, why should they bother to pay attention?