A Book Review: How We Talk


Support and Customer Success are communication fields. We talk with customers. We bridge cultural misunderstandings. We often serve as intermediaries between internal stakeholders and customers.  So today I thought I would add to our collective bookshelf a scientific exploration of the conversation dance, one that’s useful in any circumstance and also has interesting implication in an age of forced video conferences.

How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation considers conversations as complex dances between the speakers, dances with lots of rules that are mostly unwritten, but matter a lot.

  • Speakers respond to each other very fast, faster than they can blink, and consider long delays as communication failures. This holds universally, with only very  small differences between cultures– so now we know why audio and video lags are so disturbing!
  • Speakers pause just a little longer when they disagree as opposed to when they agree. Something to watch out for as a skilled listener.
  • The dreaded huh and um are essential words to regulate delays in speaking, with huh announcing a short delay and um a longer one.
  • My favorite finding was that speakers try very hard to “repair” conversation when they don’t quite understand what the speaker says, by asking clarifying questions. Repair is pretty much universal in any conversation that lasts more than five minutes. Isn’t it wonderful that conversation partners are really trying to make it work?

If you need ammunition to convince your team to talk more and write less, this would be a good reference to quote. It’s full of graphs and numbers so likely to be more interesting to more nerdy types. (Guilty as charged.)

What are you doing to promote direct conversations? Tell us in the comments.


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