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Class 18: Conversation Structure

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Author: Jessica Collett
Prof. Jessica Collett, University of Notre Dame. "Introduction to Social Psychology" lecture notes - Conversation Structure

Class Notes

Communication is the use of verbal and nonverbal symbols whose meanings depend on the shared context created by the participants.

Intersubjectivity - people in the interaction understand the others' status, view of the situation, and plans or intentions.  Intersubjectivity is key to communication.

In the reading for today, Deborah Tannen (1990) argues that women and men talk differently.  Men tend to speak first and the most in public presentations, where women tend to speak most in private.  For men, talk is a way to maintain status and independence.  For women, talking is a way to develop bonds and intimacy.  She suggest that some of the communciation problems between men and women are because of these different viewpoints on talk.  There may be a lack of intersubjectivity of the view of the situation.

Communciation is often thought of as a process of consciously translating ideas and feelings into symbols and then transmitting them in a way that will be correctly interpreted by the listener.  Communication doesn't need to be conscious though-- we have many conversations that don't require coding and decoding, but are scripted.  In familiar or routine situations, we rely on conversational scripts-- a sequentially organized series of utterances that occur with little or no conscious thought (Michener, DeLamater and Myers 2004:166).


People do not have unlimited options in conversation, but typically follow general language patterns.  After reading the Holtgraves article, work through the Conversation Analysis worksheet (pdf).  Think about how constrained your choices of language are, both by what is generally acceptable within society and what the other party wants to hear.

Works Cited

Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation. New York: Ballantine Books.

Michener, H. Andrew, John D. DeLamater, and Daniel J. Myers.  2004. Social Psychology. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.
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