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The Incredible Thing We Do During Conversations

Stashed in: Conversations, #lifehacks, Communication, Listen!, Awesome

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Humans are agile communicators!

When we talk we take turns, where the “right” to speak flips back and forth between partners. This conversational pitter-patter is so familiar and seemingly unremarkable that we rarely remark on it. But consider the timing: On average, each turn lasts for around 2 seconds, and the typical gap between them is just 200 milliseconds—barely enough time to utter a syllable. That figure is nigh-universal. It exists across cultures, with only slight variations. It’s even there in sign-language conversations.

“It’s the minimum human response time to anything,“ says Stephen Levinson from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. It’s the time that runners take to respond to a starting pistol—and that's just a simple signal. If you gave them a two-way choice—say, run on green but stay on red—they’d take longer to pick the right response. Conversations have a far greater number of possible responses, which ought to saddle us with lengthy gaps between turns. Those don't exist because we build our responsesduring our partner’s turn. We listen to their words while simultaneously crafting our own, so that when our opportunity comes, we seize it as quickly as it’s physically possible to.

“When you take into account the complexity of what’s going into these short turns, you start to realize that this is an elite behavior,” says Levinson. “Dolphins can swim amazingly fast, and eagles can fly as high as a jet, but this is our trick.”

I never thought of conversations as elite behavior before. Cool.

The downside to it is that when we are framing our answer while the other person talks, our listening is compromised

That's a good point, and why it's okay to pause after listening to someone before answering.

my elite behavior is listening to two children simultaneously and crafting appropriate responses for both so that neither feels unheard.  throw an adult in the mix, and now i've got to carry on three conversations at once without letting anyone feel left out... that's when i'm like a green beret of conversation!

Any tips on how to do that? Sounds very challenging!

i can only do it for very short periods of time.  when visitors come, it is a tremendous challenge!  i get heavy headaches by the end of the day when i have too much conversation to manage.

what i have to do is replay the last couple seconds in my mind as i am responding to one so i can recall what the other one said and then craft my response for him.  obviously, the best method is to teach everyone to take turns!  we're working on it!!!

Actually, when you put it that way, the best thing you can do is coach everyone to take turns, so that they all learn to listen to each other too. 

Feels like to do otherwise is to reinforce a bad habit of not listening to the others in an attempt to monopolize your attention. 

Of course there's only so much a child can be coached, so it's understandable how difficult this is!

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