By Dr Charles Margerison
A word that ends with the term ‘ology’ refers to an area of study. The study of psychology, biology, anthropology and other major areas have led to vital advances in knowledge and quality of life. The study of immunology has helped save millions of lives. The study of geology has led to the discovery of valuable materials. The study of sociology helps us to understand the structure of different societies and the implications for interaction and development.
“Conversology” – the study of the ways people discuss issues when exchanging information, and influencing others.
There are many elements in any conversation and the issues can be studied by other disciplines. A key area of Psychology is the study of how we learn. Philology is the historical study of both oral and written communication. Anthropology covers the study of people in different communities, inclusive of their language. However, the art and science of conversation in social, professional and business settings is an area of study that has not received the same attention, although it is fundamental to all of our lives.
After every meeting or discussion, we walk away with either more or less confidence. Each conversation either raises or lowers our spirits. Every conversation has an impact on our life, as we are using valuable time. The extent to which we succeed in life within our work, our relationships and our wellbeing, depends on the extent to which we are effective in conversation. However, Conversology is not a subject that is found on the school curriculum. Nor, is Conversology a subject taught at University.
Nonetheless, it is a subject that is referred to with feeling each day. For example, you have heard people say, – ‘That meeting was a waste of time.’, or ‘I was upset by the way he spoke to me’, or ‘There was more left unsaid than said and I don’t trust them.’
The consequence of effective and ineffective conversations has measurable impacts in many ways. Salespeople know this, as everyday their conversation has an impact on their career and future employment. Doctors know this, as they have many discussions with patients that deal with the quality of their lives. Teachers know this, as they try to guide students, many of whom can have severe emotional problems. Conversology, therefore, is a subject that deserves in-depth study to help improve our interactions in many situations inclusive of –
Conversation is central to the success of –
There is a rich history associated with the study of words in action. Shakespeare is recognized as a doyen of drama. He put golden phrases of conversation into the mouths of actors. Long before that the Greeks studied rhetoric, or the ability to influence others. They valued the art of thinking and the development of philosophy. Aristotle referred to logos, pathos and ethos as three major modes of persuasion.
More recently, we have witnessed the emergence of terms like ‘critical thinking’ and ‘proactive thinking’ as important phrases in education. These relate to improving people’s ability to converse. Also, a field of study in psychology called ‘discursive analysis’ has emerged as a professional area of enquiry. This assesses the way people discuss, and looks at issues of meaning such as those covered by people who focus on semiotics. Likewise, those who study Communication Analysis and Oracy have made contributions to the study of social interaction. Sociolinguistics is a specific subject that compares and contrasts the language within different societies and cultures.
So, there are many examples of research and publications on the underlying structure and function of conversation. Therefore, it is surprising that there is no integrated and agreed ‘ology’ of conversation and, therefore, no formal basis or curriculum for tuition on the subject. This may be the result of conversation not being seen as a special skill. After all, we all learned to speak and converse before we went to school. Our parents helped us learn our native language simply by getting us to repeat what they said. Therefore, conversation maybe regarded as something that one does not need to study.
In contrast, Literacy and Numeracy have long been established as part of the education curriculum. Other subjects, such as Science, require the acquisition of professional words and phrases that need to be used in conversation. Once again, it is assumed this will usually occur naturally. So, can a more organized approach to conversation help students learn those subjects more effectively?
Indeed, the understanding of conversational dynamics can improve the professional work of doctors, dentists, architects, engineers, business managers and a host of other professions. Many large companies think this is the case as they give their employees training on how to respond to customers and how to improve teamwork with colleagues.
Conversology can be studied in every social situation. It is particularly important with regard to the issues involved in negotiation, where judgement based on fact and opinion is required, and it is also vital to improve relations between people from different groups in multicultural communities. In particular, the subject of Conversology can be studied every day on a minute-by-minute basis in meetings with friends.
The impact of effective conversation is recognized on a personal emotional basis in the way we deal with situations of conflict and disagreement. We know if we are happy or annoyed in the way that we are treated by family, friends, colleagues and those with whom we meet in shops, restaurants, or cafes. There is a cost to every conversation in terms of time. Conversations move us forward or backward. Someone who is effective at conversation can enhance our life. Those who abuse us in conversations are guilty of verbal assault.
Conversology can be studied and taught. Most of all it can be learned and applied. The result will be more effective conversations leading to improved service, innovation, creativity and teamwork, as well as self-development.
‘If Only I Had Said’ – C J Margerison – Mercury Publications.
‘Handbook of Language and Social Interaction’ D Edwards. 2005
‘Conversation and Cognition’ H Te Molder, J Potter 2005
‘Discursive and Social Psychology’ J Potter , M Wetherell 1987”
‘Discursive Psychology’ Sally Wiggins 2016
“Discursive Psychology’ Derek Edwards, Jonathan Potter, 1992
‘Discursive Psychology in Practice’ Rom Harre, Peter N Stearns, 1995
‘Learning and Language in the classroom’’ Peter Chilver, Gerard Gould