Every time we speak, we ask something of the people with whom we’re talking. We ask for their attention, for space in the conversation, for them to think about what we have to say. For most of us, the cost to attend to someone is fairly small. For some — the hard of hearing, individuals with learning disabilities, the extremely introverted — the price of attention is higher. But in no case does it cost our listeners nothing.
In addition, we often make choices that are obstacles to effective communication. Our diction isn’t clear. We don’t think out what we are saying before we say it. We speak too softly. We don’t provide our listeners with the context they need. Our words are poorly chosen or don’t mean what we are trying to say. In these cases, the person to whom we’re speaking must ask us to repeat ourselves, to clarify a point, or to elaborate. None of these are inherently bad things. But all of them do increase the cost of communication.
Thus, taking the time to consider and craft one’s words is an act of generosity. Speaking clearly and well is a way to say “I value your time and attention and want to use them well.” Thinking before we speak puts a little more of the work of communication back on us. And all of these are ways of giving, of tacitly caring for the person with whom we speak.
In addition, putting this care into our talk has another benefit: our words are ultimately more likely to be heard. We all know people who speak much but say little. And we also know those who are often quiet, but when they do choose to share it is with just the right word. Knowing this, we often attend more closely to the speaker whose utterances are more consistently valuable.
Think before you speak. Be clear in meaning and diction. Consider what background your listeners need. While the process of good communication doesn’t rest solely on your shoulders, it can’t happen without you.