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Like all other creatures made by Allah, the Almighty, human beings are also blessed with the ability to speak, listen, react and respond. We need to speak when, we require something, while providing some information to another person or while discussing a problem or to communicate our feelings to somebody. People talk to each other in day to day interactions. There is always a first time when we talk to other person. How much the new person pays attention to you depends upon two things, firstly the way the person interacts and uses one's speaking power and secondly how good a listener the other person is? When two or more than two persons interact and exchange information verbally extemporaneously that is said to be a conversation. Conversation is not only directed to another person but also responded by the person talked to. When there is one sided talk we call it speech or a talk. The art of conversation is very important in everyday life, may it be a casual talk between friends or some discussion to negotiate a problem. A good conversation is gateway to resolve problems.
The scope of the presentation is to highlight the mechanics of a good conversation and how it affects our lives. The topic is covered by a team:
According to Arnold Lakhovsky, conversation is a two sided communication or may be an interactive in its outlook; it mostly involves an extemporaneous output and sometimes more-or-less spontaneous, which takes place between two or more participants. Interactivity occurs because contributions to a conversation are response reactions to what has previously been said.
Conversation is locally managed, interactive, informal, extemporaneous and sequential interchange of thoughts and feelings between two or more people.
Locally Managed. It means that those present at the scene to participate in the talk are the elements of conversation.
Interactive. An activity, which thoroughly involves two or more people.
Informal. Without compulsions and strict rules, obligations and norms.
Extemporaneous. It means participants would talk and interact spontaneously with preparation.
Sequential. Meaning that the proceeding will in the continuum of expressions starting with a prologue and terminating at a meaningful conclusion.
Interchange. Means exchange of views, thoughts and opinions.
Thoughts. The ideas from the brain generated exclusively with reference to the context.
Feelings. The hidden reaction to a situation in mind, intrapersonal expressions or emotions
Elements of Conversation
Conversations are considered as the surest form of communication, in order to resolve detailed, demanding and spontaneous answers intended to lead to a comprehensible end. A meaningful and successful conversation would focus at the issues commonly related to the speakers. Conversation includes all elements of communication like, encoding, transfer, decoding, perception, structuring, recapitulating and making a reaction or response. Some essential elements of conversations are:
Participants. These are the individuals who are in contact, not necessarily known to each other. The type of conversation, level of formality and language ethics depends upon the closeness, personality, temperament and style of individuals.
Setting/Context. These are the conditions or the backdrop in which the conversation is taking place. For example if two friends are meeting after a long time the setting or the context would be the time they had spent away from each other.
Initiator. Initiator is the person who breaks the ice, who takes the lead to start a conversation by asking about something, which might be of common interest to the other person or group. This generally occur in an unarranged accidental interaction like, travelling together, meeting at a bus stop, standing in a long queue etc.
Period. It is the time for which the conversation is likely to take place. When time is short the conversation is intense and rich, whereas when having ample time the conversation is calm, slow and would be blended with other formalities like serving with eatables or small gaps in conversation.
Words of Similar Nature but Different Connotation
Types and Structures of Conversation
Generally there are two types of conversations:
Casual Social Conversation. Casual social conversation helps us to meet our interpersonal needs and to build and maintain our relationship. 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. Before changing the topic one must respond or answer back and then take a lead to change the topic.
Pragmatic Problem Consideration Conversation. In pragmatic problem consideration conversation, the topic initiated requires the participants to deliberate and reach a conclusion through a series of arguments relevant to the problem. These conversations may be more orderly than social conversation and may have as many as five parts.
Greeting and Small Talk. Problem consideration conversations usually open with a welcome note from the organizer or the initiator of the conversation and a small casual talk to form personal image in order to influence the group or participants.
Topic Introduction and Statement of need for Discussion. The topic is introduced which is under discussion. The elaboration of problem would allow a clear picture of the situation to be formed in participants mind and that affects the viability of conversation.
Information Exchange and Processing. The conversation moves to a series of information exchange episodes among the participants and during the process the agreed points or the outcomes are noted down by the initiator. Participants take their turns and give out their opinions. Though this is a bit formal as compared to casual conversation yet it does not follow a text book like schedule. The conversation may move form the main topic to the subtopic and vice-versa.
Summarizing Decisions and Clarification. As the conversation closes to an end the initiator or the organizer of the conversation summarizes the important points brought forwards during the course of conversation and acknowledges the contributors of each contributing point.
Formal Closing. The final outcome of the conversation is announced with appreciations and thanks to all participants. The initiator stands up and shakes hand with each participant according to the cultural or social norms.
Rules for Conversation
Although conversation is defined as spontaneous informal interactive exchange of feelings and thoughts yet it is followed by certain norms of decency of culture and social obligations. Unwritten prescriptions that indicate what behaviour is obliged in certain contexts are called rules. These unwritten rules give us clues as to what kind of messages and behaviour are proper in a given physical or social context or with a particular person or group of people, and they also provide us with a frame work in which to interpret the behaviour of others.
Rules must allow for choice. For instance it generally admirable to listen to the other person and until he or she has finished only then to respond but conversations allow a choice to follow these sorts of rules or not. When a person is speaking, you can hear the person out or you can break the rule and interrupt the person by saying "Sorry to have you interrupted" or "Please excuse me for cutting you short".
Rules are Prescriptive. It is in the back of the mind while conversing that if the rules are violated there would some negative reaction from the participants. This consciousness depends upon the rank or status level of the participants. A rule tells you what to do to be successful or effective. The reaction or opinion of people participating in the conversation would be formed on a negative note, when one chooses to break the rule. For instance when a person chooses to interrupt, he or she is viewed as rude and the speaker might glare at you or verbally rebuke.
Rules are Contextual. As the conditions vary from serious to leisure, from light to grave, the rules are adjusted accordingly. So most of the time we don't but if there is an urgency, like a fire or something is about to fall. When we communicate with people of cross culture like different race, sex, nationality, religion, political affiliation, class, organization, or group, however, effective communication is somewhat difficult to establish for the reason that the speaker must be aware of social norms and cultural aspects of the responded. Therefore, care must be taken not to annoy anyone on person affiliations and customs.
Rules Specify appropriate Human Behaviour. The rules are dependent on the behaviour of individuals participating in conversation. For instance if one person is harsh and irritated the rules still demand keep the calm in hand. But the intensity of the conversation can randomly change according to the behaviour of people. Some times a person is aggrieved and understanding the violent behaviour the other person remains calm to cool down his or her temperament.
How to phrase the rules for the conversation? A suitable option for phrasing rules is by using conditional clause of if and then as suggested by Shimanoff(1980) "The best we understand the communication rule if it is stated in "if-then" format (p.76). In addition to this other direct non conditional format to make a rule can also be introduced. Here are some conversation rules common to our culture:
If you are eating something, then first swallow all and then start speaking.
If you are addressed you must reply back.
If you are unable to understand the other person then you must ask the person to repeat.
If another person is speaking then you must give all your attention.
If more then every one should have equal chance to speak.
If your conversational partner is much older to you then you must consider the quantum of respect and decency.
If you can not talk something good or constructive then it is better to be quite.
Role of Gender in Conversation
While conversing with the opposite gender in formal communication one goes through different communication norms and characteristics which are gender specific:
Men to Women
Women are generally soft spoken and polite and one should adjust the tone accordingly.
Greet a woman with smile and respect.
The words and language to be used must be selective and extra care should be taken to retrain the norms of decency.
Use of hands and sitting with legs wide open must be avoided. It is better to sit cross legged.
A comfortable distance must be kept while conversing and do not ask the female to stand beside while some written work is being checked.
Do not move your eyes to the body parts and do not stare, keep moving your eyes right and left while talking until there is a point of deliberate concentration.
Do not discuss the issues which are too personal to the women, like not marrying or not being so attractive etc.
Women are high pitched therefore it is easier to make out there conversation.
Do not be harsh as mostly the women are too sensitive and tolerance threshold is too low.
Women do not rise as a mark of respect rather they just nod their head.
Try as much to avoid meeting a woman in private when being at a higher status.
Keep the collar closed or at the maximum top button may be kept opened of the shirt while attending a meeting where women are expected to be present.
Women to Men
Men are generally loud and assertive and must not be read wrongly as insolent.
Do not get into arguments with men unnecessarily because socially men do not want to be super imposed. Renowned ladies like Benazir Bhutto liked to super impose men which resulted in party break up.
Do not smile or give friendly gestures to even known persons especially being married, that gives wrong message to most of the men.
Sit with legs crossed or knees joined together.
Keep the door opened when meeting men in private.
Do not look directly into the eyes of men for too long.
Dress up according to the social setup. Its better to observe the cultural norms. Benazir Bhutto never took a veil on her head but because of Islamization process of Zia ul Haq a new culture had emerged which expected the decent women to keep a veil on their head. After her come back in 1986 she never removed the veil from her head, at least in all public appearances.
A normal man generally feels uncomfortable while being in company of known but non intimate single woman.
When in groups men and women converse freely.
On internet or indirect means of communication males feel happy and more responsive if there is a female on the other side.
Male to male communication using indirect means would be more subjective, less pleasurable and for short duration.
Female feel free in talking to female for longer duration and to only those male to whom they have intimate relationship.
Women use tears and excuse of being insulted or harassed as negative tactics to malign image of somebody. So keep a distance.
Same Gender Communication
Communication within the same gender is totally different and one is free to discuss and give many examples which one is reluctant to narrate in the presence of opposite gender. In the field of education mostly the institutions having co education setup exhibit better results because of formal and to the point teaching episodes as compared to the single gender institutions.
Effective Conversation Cooperative Principles
Cooperation of participating members of conversation is very important for a constructive and concluding outcome. The conversation will be more satisfying when the contents forwarded by the participants are in line with the purpose or basic theme of the conversation. Sometimes the on going discussion or conversation sways away from the core topic not doubt that is a part of conversation but it must not overtake the main issue or subject on which conversation is focussed upon. H. Paul, Grice describes the following six conversational maxim requirements:
Quality Maxim. It is the requirement to provide information that is truthful and authenticated. Do not give out vague information only to impose a positive impression on others. If a person is not sure about any information he or she must say that the information is not authentic and must be checked before it is believed. It is also the responsibility of others in a conversation to check up the validity of every new information, whenever we receive it. In our religion as well Allah, the Almighty spelling out the definition of the people with faith says, the people of faith are those who do not believe on what they hear but they always certify."
Quantity Maxim. It is the minimum amount of information necessary to make information authentic and reliable. At the same time the details of the information should not be so lengthy as to undermine the lightness of the conversation. While giving out the details of an event try to touch the most thrilling or important aspects rather than giving out a chronological detail.
Relevancy Maxim. The relevancy maxim requires the information relevant to the subject being conversed. Though the topic or subject can be changed but people are still making statements related to a subject than it must be avoided to give irrelevant information.
Manner Maxim. It is the need to be sequential, organized and specific to communicate the thoughts. Some people have very valuable information but they lack the proper manner to present, resultantly, required effect does not stimulate. It is better to formulate the thoughts into steps in sequence of their logical functioning or access. More over the volume of voice, gestures, facial expression and eye contact must present a humble, friendly and pleasant attitude.
Morality Maxim. This maxim demands that while speaking during a conversation morality and ethical compulsion must be kept in mind.. Bringing in the information which is confidential or too personal to discuss until the person is a direct subject. Character assassination of someone not present and not directly involved with any of the persons in the conversation is immoral.
Politeness Maxim. This maxim asks us to be polite to the other participants of the conversation. The social norms must be adhered and the language must not be invective and rude especially when some point is not agreed upon.
PART - III
Skills of Effective Face to Face Conversationalist
Many of us must be thinking that we can converse very well and can influence people to a goal of our desire but as a matter of fact it is not easy to converse on vital issues and drive others to a point of view which is pre-conceived by the initiator. Can we improve our conversation skills? The answer is surely yes, we can then how we can to improve them. Following are the few guidelines in order to improve the conversational skills.
Acquiring Quality Information. Learning is a life long process. A person who is knowledge friendly always finds oneself short of information because the world's informational structure is doubling every five years or so. One can always influence others by superior knowledge and know how. The personality aspect of influencing is a blessing from the creator, which includes the outlook, voice and physique. But knowledge overpowers the physical short-comings. To increase knowledge and that too quality information one must:
Recite and read Holy Quran daily at least a verse with translation and think over it the whole day when ever you get time.
Read newspaper every day not just the headlines but at least 50 percent of it.
Read at least one weekly newsmagazine or special interest magazine.
Watch television documentaries and news specials as well as entertainment and sports programmes.
Attend the theatre and converts as well as watch movies sometimes.
Visit historical sites and museums and take photographs to keep a record.
Read classical books and at least one book of your cultural poets.
Learn at least one foreign language and your own cultural languages.
As Initiator Ask Meaningful Questions. In a social gathering when people are not so much closely intimated and new faces come across, the question arises how to start with a conversation. One has to initiate a subject, which must be of some interest to the respondent as well. There are generally four common question which kicks off a conversation.
Refer to Family. Ask about the family, education of children, living health of parents, etc.
Refer to the Person's Work. Ask about the job, latest professional activities, some job related question at national and international settings.
Refer to Leisure Activities. Ask about hobbies, vacations, weekend activities, etc.
Refer to Current Events. Ask about the latest social problems, political situation at national and international levels, some catastrophes, economic situation, etc.
As Responder, Provide Free Information. In order to indulge into an effective, thought provoking and productive conversation the responder has to be equally involved in the process of conversation one sided questions with short answer would never generate a healthy, informative and pleasant conversation. Therefore a respondent has to be participative and should give free flow of information in order to produce interest and putting a clearer picture of oneself in front of the initiator.
Credit Sources. It means giving credit to the source through which the information is acquired. In written correspondence or information it generally done by footnoting or providing reference at the end of the paper. Similarly when conversing verbally one can always credit the source verbally. Crediting the source is an ethical norm of learned people so as to give credit to a person who actually provided the information. If no credit is cited then it appears that the idea was ones own, which would be untrue and unmoral.
Balance Speaking and Listening. People are satisfied when they feel that they have been given sufficient opportunity to present their point view. This can only be possible when there is balance in speaking and listening from every participant. The techniques for balance speaking and listening is called turn talking technique.
Rotate the turn systematically.
Limiting the time for every speaker on each turn.
Recognize and heed turn-exchange cues.
Comply with conversation directing behaviour.
Practice Politeness. Politeness in matters that need a favour from a person who is otherwise not obliged to do it. Politeness is a part of etiquettes that is aimed at appreciating a person in order to protect some needs. Everyone has the desire to be appreciated and approved, which to some extent is called sycophancy. Most of us do not like that people to come straight to a point, which would challenge our judgement, competency or potential. For instance if a student tells his professor, "You have been unfair in checking my paper" would in most of the cases agitate the professor and would try to refuse the rechecking altogether. In the same case if the student says, I know you are quite busy but I would appreciate if you could look at my paper again, I have marked the places that I would like to be considered again". Here there is more likelihood that the professor would ask the student to leave the paper and he would see it again.
Brown and Levinson(1987) believe that the level of politeness largely depends upon there main factors.
How well people know each other in their relative status. With the people we are less familiar or the higher the social status the other person enjoy, the more polite we generally tend to be. For instance when meeting for the first time we are more polite than to those who are our friends. In our social set up the status of elders is considered to be higher and we are expected to be more polite.
The power the hearer has over the speaker. Most of the people are more polite to the people who are more powerful and can harm or favour a person than to those who are powerless.
The risk of hurting the other person. Most of the people do not like to intentionally hurt others.
Advantages and Disadvantage of Conversation
Conversation is a symbol of life and exchange of views, information, thoughts, feelings and questions through which the desire to know more is materialized. Conversation has numerous advantages but in business and day to day working other modes of communication are preferred since conversation has some disadvantages as well.
Conversation provides and opportunity for more clarity through an immediate feed.
Conversation is more personal and informal way of getting the things done by providing information which the respondent needs.
Saves time and effort and surest way of getting first hand information.
Conversations are best for taking immediate decisions and response.
Conversation removes doubts and misunderstandings.
Conversation strengthens the relationship.
Conversation is the best way of learning and sharing information.
Conversation is accompanied by non-verbal cues as well which further strengthens the communication such as, tone, loudness, sympathy, affection, body language and gestures.
Since the conversation is an extemporaneous conversion of thoughts and feelings, therefore it is likelihood that words are not suitably selected and would convey different connotative meanings thus creating a misunderstanding.
Conversations are not authentic and maintain no record. Some people may forget or decline what they had said during the conversation.
Conversations are lengthy. A written well worded and concise communiqué would take much lesser time to read and understand as compared to face to face conversation.
Men are not sharp enough to express their feelings, emotions and hide behind other non-serious topics like sports, women, music or cars.
Women are more observant and can out rightly bring truth form the cover-ups.
Some times conversations push the matter to more serious situations than the silence which is itself a healer.
PART - IV
Electronically Mediated Conversations
Although are rules governing the verbal face to face conversation apply by and large to electronically mediated conversations but still there are few distinct features with conversation in absentia. There are a number of electronically mediated conversational methods and some are as effective as the face to face conversation such as video conferencing.
Mobile or Cell Phones
Characteristics of Electronically Mediated Conversations
Recollection of exact words of the initiator
Absence of expression, gestures and body language.
Quick reference to the authentic sources.
Use of abbreviations and checking the spellings as you type.
Conversing via Blogs, Newsgroup and Internet Chat
Chance to enhance knowledge and interactive skills
Assessment of you ability at global level.
New friendships and interaction world wide.
Strict implementations of rules, violators are kicked out instantly.
As good as face to face conversation
Speedy interaction without moving to same venue.
Use of expression, feelings, gestures and body language.
Dependent on energy source and media.
Absence of facial expressions and body language.
Voice expressions and overtones can be judged and communicated.
Dependent on lines and availability of person at the place of telephone.
Etiquettes of telephony
Mobile Phones and Cellular Phones
Combination of internet and telephony.
Difficult to detect disposition of a person.
Hand and portable
Quick and Reliable communication
Etiquettes of Mobile/ Cell communications
Demonstration of Conversation
Question and Answers
Conversation is as important as taking oxygen or supplying the blood to the body. Conversation generates trust, reliance, confidence and maturity in understanding people thoughts and feelings. Through conversations we can judge the true potential of cognizance and extemporaneous response to impromptu situations. Conversation removes doubts, ambiguities and misunderstandings. Conversations spread knowledge and help us to share the experiences of other people. Conversations remove misconceptions, false impressions and bring people together.