Every conversation is communication. It’s also beneficial to think of communication as a conversation. Why? Because relationships, which grow from communication, are really just collections of conversations.
Conversation and its importance to communication is an idea needs to be grasped in at least two ways.
Conversations are about ongoing meaning-making — exchanging ideas and perspective and experience. Conversations are a back and forth — a movement of some information from A to B — and other information back from B to A. Meaning, comes out in the middle, however. It’s in our conversations where meaning is made.
Conversations — as basic, fundamental, and everyday as they are — are the language experiences where we connect with others. Conversations are like terrain that we navigate together — an experience to which each person brings their own unique experiences, goals, and purposes. We talk together and maneuver a new experience into being.
That’s communication. That’s conversation.
Every conversation has identifiable parts. Because conversations are centrally important to how we communicate, if we’re dedicated to communicating better, being able to usefully parse out the conversations we have as well as come up with ways to make them better is key.
Conversations are tricky to think about and analyze. They move fast. They roll past like a river as it sweeps by and out of view.
Conversation flows naturally from human interactions. In terms of their outcomes and enjoyability, conversations can run the gamut, ranging from healthy and vibrant to gaunt and soul-sucking. They can be boring, exciting, routine, and life-changing. No two conversations are exactly alike. Part of the fun is that we never quite know exactly what the outcomes of a given conversation will be. We have to communicate to find out.
I want to talk about 3 ideas about conversation. Path. Flow. Arc.
Path — What path did the conversation take? What ground was covered? What topics were discussed? Every conversation may have one or many paths.
When we talk to one another, topics join together seamlessly to form conversations. We do this automatically and without much thought. Go back and think about, for example, a healthy dinner conversation and think about how much ground actually gets covered! It’s a lot, even in conversations that don’t seem to go much of anywhere. With virtually any conversation, you’ll find many topics covered and many paths explored.
So, what are the topics of a given conversation? Don’t like them? Ask a question or show curiosity to change the subject or interject some new conversational life? Feel like you talk about the same things over and over again? Try bringing up a new subject. Or find someone else to talk to. Or just accept that your relationship is what it is. Maybe that makes you happy, maybe it does not. That, is for you to decide.
Flow — Conversation flow is the pace we feel and sense but usually can’t explain or have difficulty in pinpointing. Every conversation has a pace, pattern, and measurable feel to its tilt and slant. Sometimes we’re aware of these things and sometimes we are not. Flow emerges naturally from all conversations.
Flow is the difference you might feel when you engage with, for example, someone you know quite well and someone you just met. Anyone can jive together but the process of figuring that out, and the lane you end up settling in (assuming you settle in a lane) is all part of the fun. Flow, like path, can take on many forms. Conversations can be volatile, routine, intense, chilled, or just about anything else.
Arc — Arc is conversation’s trajectory. Not so much the topics covered (path), but the places you ended up relative to where you started. What were the outcomes? Imagine an arrow flying through the air. The arrow is your conversation. And where it lands is the outcome. (Note: there may be more than one outcome!) Where did you end up? Were those outcomes good or bad? Did the conversation land on what was targeted? Or end up somewhere new or different?
Arcs, like paths, can be well-worn and repeated. Think of this as conversational steadiness and relationship reliability. But it could be boredom and repetition. Predictable outcomes might be the norm. New conversations can always mean new landing spots. Conversations can end up anywhere. Outcomes are limitless.
Three ideas about conversations and how to analyze yours. Conversations are sneaky. Often we’re in them without even realizing quite how we got there. But there we are, having our relationship made up in front of us, right there as we go.
Conversations, and in fact communication itself, are moment-to-moment. They are also strangely ongoing. Communication can turn on a time. New meaning or information can come out of nowhere. Conversations can pivot wildly because of one thing someone says. On the flip side of that, tiny little things that someone might say can stick with us well beyond the time that conversational moment has moved past us.
People think of communication as a static, bounded experience of “sending and receiving messages” but communication is far more slippery, far more experiential, far more impromptu than to be bounded by much of anything.
Communication is ongoing and you have to think about it as such. It is not an on/off switch. See it like that and you’re doomed to miss communication’s inherent opportunity.
We think of communication as this formalized thing, “Ok, I am communicating with them now.” as you go to hit send on that email. (We don’t actually say this.) But communication isn’t always formalized and clearly demarcated. Much of it is impromptu and in the moment. And often when communicating, we’re shooting from the hip.
Due to communication’s moment-to-moment impromptuness and the ease with which we fall into conversations with one another, patterns and repetition can emerge and can even fossilize. This is routine. Routine conversations. They are everywhere. Ever have the same conversation (essentially) over and over with someone? Every time you go to the grocery store, every time you visit relatives, every time you bump into Ned Ryerson from high school, every time you talk to tech support…the conversation is the same? Have you felt that? Routine can be good or bad. I’m not judging…except the guy from high school who relives the same glory days stories every time you happen upon one another. That, I judge.
Routine can be efficient just as routine can limit possibilities. We mustn’t forget that communication can be highly “inefficient” and be productive. Sometimes, efficiency is overrated. And also, conversation’s moment-to-momentness can lead not jus to routine but introduces volatility as well.
Conversations are everywhere. We have them all the time. They are an essential “unit” of communication. Their sequences make up relationships. Every conversation is communication and all communication can be thought of as a conversation.