Cadence of conversation

We can only listen to one person at a time. That means comprehension will be harder for any listeners than it is for the participants in a conversation. I’d like you to consider manipulating cadence to create conversations that are easier to understand.

If you and I are conversing, I have only to listen to you and you have only to listen to me. I’m listening to one person. You’re listening to one person. I can laugh at your joke, “mm-hmm” affirmatively, finish your sentences, or talk over you briefly while still completely comprehending you (and vice versa of course.) We can each be excellent, active listeners while also communicating.

If instead you are listening to a conversation, the more the participants speak simultaneously, the less you will fully understand either of them. (Taken to a malicious extreme this can become the Heckler’s Veto.)

When participating in any conversation, we will fall into a cadence with our partner. By default, we will settle into a cadence which works for us in the moment, and which we can sustain. That cadence will be unique in that it combines all our personal features with all those of our partner.

But this is not what happens to a listener. Listeners are strapped in for the cadence created in the original conversation. (I’m setting aside the valid points that listeners can alter playback speed, use variable speeds to skip silences, pause, and rewind since here I’m interested in talking about what we can do when creating conversation.)

Generally, the cadence will have to be a touch slower overall for a listener to keep up. If conversation participants speak smoothly for longer stretches, then things can move along quickly. But the more back-and-forth there is, the more we need to slow our cadence. If my guest says something clever, I need to leave a bit of space—quiet laughter or sounds of being impressed—before I head off on that new line of thought. If I want to make a sharp turn after the other stops talking, I need to add something—a bit of a pause, a chuckle, a false start, some throw-away sounds—so listeners sense a change and can stick with us through the turn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *