"Talk: The Science of Conversation" by Elizabeth Stokoe


This intriguing book looks at conversational speech as a set of patterns that can be analyzed and manipulated for better results. While I disagree with some of her findings (she is not a buyer of the impact of body language, nor does she believe in the value of role playing for training. I disagree! ) some of her points are worth noting:

  • Conversation is essentially turn-taking. Interrupting or responding out of sync will set your conversations in the wrong direction.

  • Rapport is essential (We knew that). So be sincere. Don’t jump into new conversations with “How are you?, but asking it later makes it more sincere.

  • She discusses that the processing of information occurs while the speaker is speaking. Agreed. But she views the pause in the response as a warning of a problem. I disagree. It depends on what the objective is and who the audience is. In sales, a salesperson pausing to answer the client’s inquiry is a ego boost for the client.

  • Um/Oh/So. These are used in speech differently. UM buys time/uncertainty. OH indicates awareness of new information. SO means a change of direction and a clear preference of what that person REALLY wants to talk about. Very interesting!

  • She discusses the shortfalls of body language. Agreed, there are nuances. But your body tells a ton of information. Don’t ever discount it.

  • The loose words ANY and ANYTHING elicits a negative response. Asking questions with ANY or Anything, e.g. “ Is anything wrong? “ leads to NO. Rephrase with SOME. You are likely to get a positive answer!

  • Direct questions make gives the person asking a sense of entitlement. Be careful in your questions. The fewer the better. Anticipate how the listener will respond.

Please feel free to comment on any of these recommendations and suggest other sources that might be helpful.


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