Conversations, Problem Consideration Conversation & Conversational Rules


As Claude got into the car he casually asked Phyllis How’d thing go today?

Oh Phyllis said, as she shrugged her shoulder, Mindy lost her ball, but Ken found it.

That was nice of him.

Well, I guess saying Ken found it isn’t quite accurate actually his foot found it. Luckily the fall didn’t hurt him too badly.

What do you mean, the fail didn’t hurt him too badly? Claude asked totally confused.

Well Dr. Scott says a break like that is often less troublesome than a sprain.

Ken broke a bone and you say he’s not hurt too badly? Claude replied incredulously.

In comparison to the picture window Phyllis said indignant. The lamp went through it.

What does this have to do with Ken falling?

Everything When Ken fell he landed on Buddy who then leaped out of a sound sleep and bumped into the lamp.

Which fell through the picture window,  Claude finished.  is that all

Yes, unless Eleanor decides to sue.

our baby sister?  Sue about what?  Claude shouted.

Clam down, Claude. I just knew you’d get all excited about this. See, when the lamp crashed through the window, Eleanor jumped up to see what had happened and re injured here back. But I doubt she’ll sue. I offered to pay for her operation. But enough about this.

Claude How’d your day go.

Conversations are the medium of interpersonal communication and the building blocks of good interpersonal relationships. In fact, as Steven Duck, a leading  researcher on relationships, pointed out. If you were to sit and list the things that you do with friends, one of the  top items on the list would surely have to be talking. When conversations go well, they are informative, stimulating, and often just good fun. Yet like Claude and Phyllis’s, some conversations can be quite frustrating. By understanding how a conversation works and by taking advantage of its dynamics, we all can become more skillful in the everyday talks we have with others.

In this chapter, we define conversation and discuss its primary characteristics, discuss the types and structure of conversation, consider the rules that conversations follow, look at the cooperative principle that helps to explain how conversation works, and consider the skills of effective conversation. Finally, offer a competence test of conversation and supply a sample conversation and analysis for your consideration.

Characteristics of Conversation

Conversation is a locally managed interactive, informal, extemporaneous, and sequential interchange of thoughts and feelings between two or more people. This definition highlights several key features mentioned by Jan Genevieve (1999) that distinguish conversations from other forms of communication. First conversations are locally managed. This means only those involved in the conversation determine the order of specking, (be length each will speak are interactive; that is, they involve at least two people speaking and listening. Third, conversations are extemporaneous, which means the participants have not prepared or memorized what they will be saying. Fourth, conversations are sequentially organized; that is, they have openings, middles, and closings. Within each part of the conversation, what one participant says usually relates to what was said by previous speakers, unless the utterance is designed to change the topic on which the participants are conversing.

When people find a conversation satisfying, they tend to seek out the others for additional conversations. If, for instance, Dan meets Carl at a party and both of them found the talk they had about politics stimulating, they are likely to look forward to later conversations.

If results of a conversation are unsatisfactory, people will tend to avoid each other and not invest time or energy in further attempts to develop a relationship.

Types and Structures of Conversation

In this section, we will consider two common kinds of conversational situations that are structured differently: casual social conversation and pragmatic problem consideration conversation. Casual social conversations are marked by discussion . of topics that arise spontaneously, The discussion of these topics enables participants to share informational, and opinions and to hear the ideas and opinions of others. Casual social conversations help us to meet our interpersonal needs and to build and maintain our relationships. Pragmatic problem consideration  conversations are marked by participants’ agreeing to discuss and to resolve specific problems or to plot potential,courses of action.

The Structure of Casual Social Conversations

In a casual social conversation..a topic will be introduced and will be accepted or rejected. If others accept it, it will be discussed until such time as someone introduces another topic that others begin to discuss. A topic is rejected when others choose not to respond and when someone else introduces a different  topic that then becomes the focus. This topic change process occurs throughout the conversation.

Suppose Donna and Juanita attend a play together. As they find their seats about fifteen minutes before the play is set ,for begin, conversation may proceed as follows.

As they look around, Donna says, They really did an Art Deco thing with this place, didn’t they?

Yeah.  Hey, Juanita says: she surveys the audience, it looks as if this is going to be a sellout.

Certainly does I see people in the last row  of the balcony.

I thought this would be a popular show. It was a hit when it toured Louisville and I hear the attendance has been good all week.

Agreeing with Juanita, Donna adds, Lot’s of people I’ve talked with were trying to get tickets.

Well it’s good for the downtown.

Yeah, Donna says, as she glances at the notes on the cast. After a few seconds, she exclaims, I didn’t know Gloria Van Dell was from Cincinnati.

Notice what happened. Donna introduced the topic of decorative style. Juanita acknowledges the point, but chooses not to discuss it. Instead, she chooses a different topic. Donna accepts the topic with a parallel comment. Juanita introduces information about what had happened in Louisville. The conversation lasts for two more turns. Then Donna introduces a new topic.

For the remainder of the time before the show starts, Juanita and Donna could converse on one or more topics, sit and read their programs, or engage in some combination of conversing and reading.

The Structure of Pragmatic Problem Consideration Conversation

In pragmatic problem consideration conversation, the topic initiated requires the participants to deliberate and reach a conclusion. These conversations may be more orderly than social conversations and may have as many as five parts.

1 Greeting and small talk. Problem-consideration conversations usually open  with some kind of greeting followed by a very brief conversation on social topics, just to establish rapport.

2. Topic introduction and statement of need for discussion. In the second stage, one participant introduces the problem or issue that is the real purpose for the conversation. How this topic is presented or framed affects how the discussion will proceed.

3. Information exchange and processing. The conversation then progresses to a series of speaking turns, and participants share information and opinions, generate alternative solutions, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different options, and so on. Although each of these issues is likely to be addressed-the conversation will probably not be organized like a textbook problem-solving session. The conversationalists may move from subtopic to subtopic and circle back again.

4. Formal closing. Once the conversationalists have discussed the issue and clarified the next steps that will be taken, they are ready to end the problem consideration conversation. Endings enable -the conversationalists to either move to a social conversation, begin a new problem consideration, or simply disengage from one another. The formal closing often includes showing appreciation for the conversation.

Although such problem-consideration conversations will vary in length, depending on the nature of the topic and its complexity, the five steps can be seen in this brief dialogue.

April: Hi, Yolanda. How are you doing?

Yolanda: Oh, can’t complain too much.

April: I’m glad I ran into you I need to check something out with you.

Yolanda: Can we do this quickly? I’ve really got to get cracking on the speech I’m doing for class.

April: Oh, this will just take a minute. If I remember right, you said that you’d been to the Dells for dinner with Scot; I’d like to take Rob there to celebrate his birthday, but I wanted to know whether we’d really feel comfortable there.

Yolanda: Sure. It’s pretty elegant, but the prices aren’t bad and the atmosphere is really nice.

April: So you think we ran really the  dinner on fifty or sixty dollars?

Yolanda: Oh, yeah. We had a salad, dinner, and a dessert and our bill was under sixty even with the tip.

April: Thanks, Yolanda. 1 wanted to ask you ’cause I know you like to eat out when you can.

Yolanda: No problem. Gatta run. Talk with you later-and let me know how Rob liked it.

Rules of Conversation

Although our conversations seems to be random .activities with little form or structure, they are actually based on rules, unwritten prescriptions that indicate what behavior is obligated, preferred, or prohibited in certain contexts (Shiman off, 1980, p. 57). These unwritten rules give us clues as to what kinds of messages and behavior are proper in a given physical or social context or with a particular person or group of people, and they also provide with a fancywork in which to interpret the behavior of other.

Characteristics of Rules 

Let’s begin our discussion by considering what makes a rule a rule and how rules are phrased, As we do this, we will use a common conversation rule as an example. If one person is talking, another person should not interrupt.

1. Rules must allow for choice. This means that rules must give you a choice to follow them or not. When a person is speaking, you can hear the person out, or you can break the rule and interrupt the person-you have a choice.

2. Rules are prescriptive. A rule tells you what to do to be successful or effective. If you choose to break the rule, you risk being criticized or punished. If you choose to interrupt, you will be viewed as rude and the speaker might glare at you or verbally upbraid you .

3. Rules are contextual. This means that rules apply in some situations but may not apply under different conditions. So most of the time we don’t interrupt, but if there is an emergency-like a fire-it is all right to interrupt. When we communicate with people of a different race, sex, nationality, religion, political affiliation, class, organization, or group, however, effective communication is likely to be more difficult than when we communicate with people from our own culture because their communication rules may well be different from those with which we are familiar.

4. Rules specify appropriate human behavior. That means that rules focus on what to do or not do.

Phrasing Rules

Although we phrase rules·.in many ways, Shimanoff (1980) suggests that we are best able to understand a communication rule if it is stated in an if then format. She goes on to.state that a rule should begin with if to introduce the clause that specifies in whit context the rule is operable; the if clause should be followed by then, which introduces the clause that specifies the nature of the prescription and the behavior that is prescribed. So If X is the situation or context, then Y is obligated (preferred or prohibited).

Here are some conversational rules that are common to Western cultures. Notice that in some cases the word then has been omitted, but it is still implied.

If your mouth is full of food, then you must not talk.

If you are spoken to, you must reply.

If another does not hear a ask, then you must repeat it.

If you are being spoken to, you should direct your gaze to the speaker.

If more than two people are conversing, you should ensure each has equal time to speak.

If your conversational partners art significantly older then you, then you should refrain from using profanities and obscenities.

If you can’t say something nice, then you don’t say anything at all.

If you are going to say something that you don’t want overheard, then drop the volume of your voice.