My sister Karin Kusumakar and I are in New York and we decided we were going to go to the great City of New York Library (yes, the one that Ghostbusters was filmed at!) to find a book to read. This library is HUGE! There are 3 floors and a basement. We found the non-fiction section in Room 67 in the basement area. We grabbed a bunch of books and took a vote on which book we would read because we both were going to read the same book and give our own summary.

Let me preface this post by saying that Karin is MUCH, MUCH smarter than I am. I didn’t read her post, she didn’t read mine. It will be interesting to see how we both read the same info and what we took from it.

We read “How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation” Chapter 2: Conversation Has Rules

My overall summary of this chapter is that there are invisible rules that have become social norm and part of social etiquette that most of us seem to abide to.

Here are some concepts that supports that statement:

1) In conversation, everyone involved had a set of implicit rights and duties in the interaction and this is because conversation is cooperative. It’s a joint action.

2) When we join in conversation, we agree (silently) to join forces towards a common goal.

3) In conversation we become morally accountable to each other. Joint action is a special way of thinking and causes us to feel moral obligation to each other.

4) There are “I” interactions which are not coordinated and there are “we” interactions that are coordinated. We use both when conversing.

5) You can compare a conversation to taking a walk with someone. You are walking side-by-side in the same direction at the same time. As in walking, people will tend to correct or self-correct to keep things moving smoothly and coherently. Same in conservation.

6) Questions in conversation create commitments from the person being asked a question. They can do one of three things: 1) they can ignore the question and not respond, 2) they can answer the question asked, or they can answer the question in a pivoting way. This is “answering the question you wish you were asked instead of answering the question you were actually asked”.

7) Rules become WAY more visible when they are broken or when a person breaks from the social norm. People are typically willing to mostly follow the rules and also willing to enforce them when not complied to.

8 ) Following conversation rules is a way of being polite. When you aren’t being polite, the rules go out the window.

9) A book written in 1869 called ” Frost’s Laws and By-laws of American Society” written by Sarah Anne Frost said, “To listen with interest and attention is as polite in society as to converse well.” She also said that the most impolite thing you could do in conversation was to be pre-occupied and absent of mind.

10) There are different types of conversation. Everyday conversation is more turn-by-turn. The other is storytelling. In that way, it is more one-sides by nature but then a payoff is expected. Stories take a stance. We expect to hear a story and a point that goes with it. But the payoff of a good story is that it gives us something to agree on and connect through.

11) Misfires in conversation are not just just awkward, they can be socially costly as well because they can cause friction and leave people upset and conflicted.

In the end there are 2 elements to conversation: the machine (mechanics of it) and the motivation (what we can derive from it).

I loved reading this chapter and really breaking down what goes on during conversations so that I can be more aware and adaptive.