Why We Talk

It's fascinating how many reasons we have for conversation.

Intrinsically, we talk for the sheer pleasure of it. Extrinsically, we talk to make meaning possible beyond the conversation.

We are excited to share good news, gossip or tidbits. We have work to get done. We need agreement on something. We seek entertainment. We are falling short of being good company for ourselves.

We have something we want others to correct or confess. We have an ask or an offer. We have feedback. We have questions and seek someone's perspective. We want to favor someone with our perspective on their questions. We seek new, more, better connections or resources. We have a common decision to make, plan to achieve or problem to solve. We just want to express care, concern or love. We want to repair misunderstandings.

We want relief from the nags of everyday obligations. We want to feel smarter or superior to others. We want allies in our war against people who don't get, respect or love us nearly enough.

We have stories to tell, grievances to share or updates to deliver. We want to think out loud with a trusted conversational companion. We want to share a secret. We want to set a date. We want to deepen or refresh a connection.

Each of us, in each conversation opportunity, has our own reasons for conversation. Anything can spark, sustain and conclude conversations.

Of the trillions of conversations we have daily around the world, there are not trillions of conversational genres. We can categorize them into a handful of common patterns: connecting, banter, utility, tense and awkward conversations.

In connecting conversations we share personal interest in each other. We feel emotionally and mutually heard, understood and appreciated. Interest in what each other knows, feels and wants builds trust.

In banter conversations we trade updates, opinions and observations. We feel amused, entertained and informed. According to University of Surrey researcher, Nicholas Emler, 80% of our conversations are gossip, of which 90% is benign.

In utility conversations we negotiate the logistics and details of everyday business. We feel productive, aligned and resolved. We seek conclusions that answer the questions of who, when, where and which. We get decided and done what needs to be decided and done.

In tense conversations, there is a desire for some kind of closure on an emotionally charged problem, dilemma or issue. We feel uncertain, uncomfortable and irritated. Whether we want the same things, we share a tension that seeks some kind of relief or resolution.

In awkward conversations we fumble for ways to begin, continue or end a conversation. We feel tentative, unsure and unconnected. The conversation lacks interest, flow and a sense of syncing together. They are often conversations of obligation.

Banter, utility, tense and awkward conversations, however useful or welcome, do not necessarily become connecting conversations. Connecting conversations have their own unique character grounded in mutual learning about the world as seen through each other's eyes.


... From the upcoming "The Art Of Conversations"