The art and science of conversation

An article from The Atlantic, “The Incredible Thing We Do During Conversations,” sheds light on both the workings of the unconscious mind and the commonalities in how all humans communicate.

There is a stereotype that people from certain cultures are more apt to talk over one another, while other cultures tend to have relatively long periods of thoughtful silence throughout their conversations.  As it turns out, these stereotypes are just that.  

Regardless of how different grammar and cultural norms can be around the world, there is very little difference in how people conduct conversations.  The average gap between turns in a conversation is 200 milliseconds, and that varies very little across 10 different languages that have been studied.  It’s a little longer for Danish speakers, a little shorter for Japanese speakers but the variations are microscopic.

Also, 200 milliseconds is a REALLY short amount of time, which suggests that when we are listening to someone speak, we are not just listening but also anticipating what they are going to say next and also formulating our own responses at the same time.  It’s a pretty amazing mental feat, and we do it all day, every day, for our entire lives.