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A conversation is communication between multiple people. It is a social skill that is not difficult for most individuals. Conversations are the ideal form of communication in some respects, since they allow people with different views on a topic to learn from each other. A speech, on the other hand, is an oral presentation by one person directed at a group.

For a successful conversation, the partners must achieve a workable balance of contributions. A successful conversation includes mutually interesting connections between the speakers or things that the speakers know. For this to happen, those engaging in conversation must find a topic on which they both can relate to in some sense. Those engaging in conversation naturally tend to relate the other speaker's statements to themselves. They may insert aspects of their lives into their replies, to relate to the other person's opinions or points of conversation.

Conversation is indispensable for the successful accomplishment of almost all activities between people, especially the coordination of work, the formation of friendship and for learning.

Through history many people have been noted for their conversation, among them Socrates, Samuel Johnson , Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, Anne Louise Germaine de Staël and Gregory Bateson.

Conversation analysis is a branch of sociology which studies the structure and organization of human interaction, with a more specific focus on conversational interaction.

Classification of conversation

Subject

The majority of conversations can be divided into four categories according to their major subject content:
  • Conversations about subjective ideas, which often serve to extend understanding and awareness.
  • Conversations about objective facts, which may serve to consolidate a widely-held view.
  • Conversations about other people (usually absent), which may be either critical, competitive, or supportive. This includes gossip.
  • Conversations about oneself, which sometimes indicate attention-seeking behaviour.


In the real world, few conversations fall exclusively into one category. Nevertheless, the proportional distribution of any given conversation between the categories can offer useful psychological insights into the mind set of the participants.

Function

Each type of conversation has its own cluster of purposes and expectations attached.
  • Functional conversation is designed to convey information in order to help achieve an individual or group goal.
  • Small talk is a type of conversation where the topic is less important than the social purpose of achieving bonding between people or managing personal distance.
  • Banter is non-serious conversation, usually between friends, which may rely on humour or in-jokes at the expense of those taking part. The purpose of banter may at first appear to be an offensive affront to the other person's face. However, people engaging in such a conversation are often signaling that they are comfortable enough in each others' company to be able to say such things without causing offense. Banter is particularly difficult for those on the autism spectrum, or those with semantic pragmatic disorder.


Spontaneity

In most conversations, the responses are a spontaneous reaction to what has previously been said. In entertainment talk shows, however, the topics of conversation are often pre-scripted. Talk shows such as William F. Buckley's Firing Line or the Dick Cavett Show can be considered as exercises in conversation.

Men and women

A study completed in July 2007 by Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizonamarker shows that contrary to popular belief, there is little difference in the number of words used by men and women in conversation. The study showed that on average each of the sexes uses about 16,000 words per day.

Literature on conversation

Authors who have written extensively on conversation and attempted to analyze its nature include:
  • Milton Wright Wrote The Art of Conversation a comprehensive treatment of the subject in 1936. The book deals with conversation both for its own sake, and for political, sales, or religious ends. Milton portrays conversation as an art or creation that people can play with and give life to.
  • Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler, and Ron McMillan have written two New York Times bestselling books on conversation. The first one, "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High," McGraw-Hill, 2002, teaches skills for handling disagreement and high-stakes issues at work and at home. The second book, "Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior," McGraw-Hill, 2005, teaches important skills for dealing with accountability issues.
  • Charles Blattberg has written two books defending an approach to politics that emphasizes conversation, in contrast to negotiation, as the preferred means of resolving conflict. His From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics: Putting Practice First, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-19-829688-6, is a work of political philosophy; and his Shall We Dance? A Patriotic Politics for Canada, Montreal and Kingston: McGill Queen's University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-7735-2596-3, applies that philosophy to the Canadian case.
  • Paul Drew & John Heritage - Talk at Work, a study of how conversation changes in social and workplace situations.
  • Neil Postman - Amusing Ourselves to Death (Conversation is not the book's specific focus, but discourse in general gets good treatment here)
  • Deborah Tannen - The Argument Culture: Stopping America's War of Words, Conversational Style: Analyzing Talk Among Friends, Gender and Discourse, I Only Say This Because I Love You, Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work, That's Not What I Meant!, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation


See also



References

  1. [1] Roxanne Khamsi, NewScientist.com news service 6 July 2007: Men – the other talkative sex. I thank them for letting them me do this research. Retrieved 8 July 2007. (Original article Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men? Mehl et al., Science 6 July 2007: 82 DOI: 10.1126/science.1139940.)


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