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The. Only. Thing you really great. Are talking about shoes John. This is no place for us. We're not interested in talking about shoes. Well I doubt if they're interested in that either. Shoes is just what they happen to be talking about. They're interested in the same thing we are. What's not human communication where our minds meet a series of explorations in human communication conducted by professors John freind and Donald Nelson of the Department of English Western Michigan University where minds meet is produced by W. M. U.K. under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters. In a shrinking world where minds meet in words or not at all man speech is his most decisive act. These discussions explore this world of speech. The topic for today is
speech on the rebound. Here are professors frind and Nelson. This is John freind and this is Arnold Nelson. Why did you say John that you doubt these girls we overheard at their coffee break were really interested in talking about Jews. Well for one thing Arnie I've heard the rest of their conversation and I got the impression that everything they talked about was incidental. But you wouldn't say that the conversation itself was incidental or trivial. Oh but by no means. I'm simply saying that the surface of any conversation is deceptive. The most trivial sounding remark may arise from profoundly complex and important purposes. Well that remark certainly doesn't sound trivial John it suggests the purpose of the series of programs about human communication. We're going to explore our words not as words but for what they reveal about the people who use them. Well let me mention a few of the things we'll be taking up in the series and many perhaps that will make your point clear. We'll be discussing for example the ways in which fear disturbs our
communication the impact of our own speech upon ourselves and the miraculous way by which our brains learn to use that complex instrument language. Today in dealing with what we have called speech on the rebound we will be touching on these and still other aspects of communication. Today's topic is a kind of introduction we want to look at conversation in particular because we believe that in a very important sense all communication is conversation. Right. And why don't we turn back and listen more closely now to that coffee break we recorded. First of all the girls involved in that conversation didn't know they were being recorded. This is the real thing. And with all the imperfections of reality of course it's hard to catch many of the words of the speakers aren't really trying to make themselves clear or logical or clever for the benefit of some audience. The only witness to their talk was a tape recorder. And these four girls are secretaries who meet for coffee every morning. And of course the coffee too is incidental. And during this short break though actually about
5000 words were exchanged and one thousand topics were treated ranging from children schoolwork and encyclopedias to mumps and a missionary meeting. That sounds almost fantastic John but it was perfectly natural for them in real conversations topics can change instantly unless one of the persons tries to force a change. As we all hear now let's pick it up where they were talking about shoes. I feel like I have. Finally. I mean. You really know why they're great. I don't want to know why. They are letting me in their regular order. Here. I mean you. Know I am out of it. I thought I mean I will invite you.
Back. They're interested enough in that topic I guess. But maybe she was isn't really the topic but only the opportunity to talk about money style and status quo whenever the topic is good for only about a minute and a half. I one of the girls is going to try to take advantage of the positive curves so she can turn the conversation to something that she's more concerned about. She'll say you hate without catching their attention the first time. And when she succeeds a moment later she asks their advice about what to serve at the Missionary Society meeting. Down there they have you.
Know we have heard crazy. Ideas. You know if you are really really right you might want to hear. Yourself. Yeah right. Well I mean it looks as if she got the advice she wanted. Well the girls were sympathetic and assuring but did you notice at her mentioning her housework change the topic of conversation rather abruptly. It's refrigerators now. They seemed to a close discussion of the missionary meeting. But it comes back in
again and with a jolt. Listen. I know. Real Well you got him here you might learn. Anything. You were right there. I know you never get out of the war you know like me and I think you're managing editor probably an hour or more. I'm like you know what you're like you know the one where here. When I don't manage to get one. And there was just too much and can hire some people. I think it was apparent irony to everyone that when the girls said hey if you
came to my house for lunch would that be enough that you took your friends by surprise. One girl didn't know what she was talking about even and said flat. But this was followed by a chorus of Oh oh sorry. What's the meaning of this. Well John as we said before are the the topics of the conversation generally are incidental to the more serious consideration of all social communion or togetherness. Conversation of this kind makes these people a group and any group exists for the sake of the individual. In this informal group there are many unspoken and even unconscious assumptions. One of the most important assumptions is that the group stands ready to support any member who needs help. The group here apparently didn't clearly recognize at first what the girl planning the luncheon really wanted. Well of course we can't be sure of what she wanted either but I don't think she really wanted to know what to serve. Oh I know she'd already decided after Officer gingerbread cake. I think she wanted instead strong confirmation from the group of her capacity to do
the right thing in any circumstances. She wanted to know if she was the kind of person she wanted to be. That after all is what all of us want and need to have others tell us but we can't go around asking people point blank such a question. So we ask it indirectly under the guise of oh seeking advice about gingerbread cake. Now the group finally gave her the moral support she needed. They told her in effect you are doing what we would do a group like this can do no more than that. This is the real topic of their conversations. It's what they're always talking about. Maybe at this point John we should explain why we have called the program today a speech on the rebound conversation is like a game of tennis. We serve a remark to another person and what comes back to us depends partially upon what upon that person but and I think this is the important point. It's partially upon our remark itself. Right. And this is what communication authorities incidentally call feedback. Feedback operates when we speak and at the same time pay
attention to the effect of our words. Feedback is in short that kind of response that we listen for in order to achieve our purpose. Well like the tennis game then we watch for the effect of our serve in order to make our following play more effective. Right the good tennis player is really playing his second shot at the very same time that he's serving his first consciously or unconsciously. We all are watching those Reba so to speak when we speak. This is true both in conversations and in formal speeches. Let's play one of those student speeches to illustrate this of course was a classroom speech and the girl here had the purpose of simply telling a funny story. Audience helps her achieve this purpose. My mother and I go. For an away game and my brother. Graham. And if you're going to and I'm going to go so you can compare when I. Was. There. Two years ago. And I said
yes. MT Yeah. We related like he drives in a gas station. Well. I want to get the window and she takes up. Thank you. Thank. God I mean I just got this. Thank you thank you again you made me do what you get Unlike you ever going to get what they say and I make a film. By A. Guy. That took my mother back. Thank you to get that claims lady with you I can stand here today was OK thank you because now thank you. Well honey that girl succeeded no purpose. The audience laughed.
She certainly did succeed. She got off to a slow start though I noticed at the very first laughter was her room. This I think triggered laughter in the audience which in turn triggered a livelier delivery in her. But I don't think our audience can appreciate how important the girls audience was to her. Unless they can hear the recording we have of this girl giving the same speech to an empty room she has the same purpose here. But she has no feedback no audience that she can hear or see. No group really to tell her whether she's doing the right thing. Well the difference is quite obvious starting with the very first clearing of the throat. My mother and I and a friend were on our way to the football game program it's to one thing and if you can appreciate my mother she drives like Mrs. where I am and the record it was probably a few years ago. And we were going from granite in the thing to see a football game. My brother was
playing so we drove from damage to Lansing about trying to entertain guests and I thought I'm not to bark to pull you back to the high school that we better get some gas which he tried in the gas station and she whipped out our window and she hands this guy to die aren't things I want to do I was with the gas and she rolls back up and went on as the poor guy is getting around to put the powder into the gas home other website out and you stand there with. The. Gas. Yeah I mother Healy command get your gap and get rowdy No. This time my girlfriend I looked back and saw the star look on his face and we were down the back seat is laughing so hard we can understand some other sheepishly backs up the car goes back to the window and the man. Puts a gas thing and then he comes by the window and he holds rope tied to the ring lasers if you wait here he says me you'd like to stay here on my mother's I don't know I'm famous you know. Thank you and she rolled up the window and take them with you.
Well that's really pretty flat. She didn't really laugh at all this time money except to imitate her mother's laughter. Why not. Well I think feedback was responsible for her first laugh in the speech before the class. I was watching that speech of course and I think she saw that the audience was finding the story funny. In short she got visual feedback right. And if you notice how the feedback improve the story she used more expressive words holds real tight to the door for instance was changed to two clamped onto it and there was a lot of stilted pronunciation and you notice how she said. A football game instead of game is if you're reading her words. Well these details simply illustrate how much more natural speech is if there is an audience that natural and effective. Speech is meant to rebound off people. Otherwise it doesn't sound like speech. I was interested John in which you certainly are about feedback. The feedback of laughter from the audience told her that she was doing OK.
But now what if she wasn't doing OK well the audience would have let her know by not laughing. This too would be feedback and she would know that she was not succeeding in her purpose and must do something different. Well then speakers can get two kinds of feedback positive and negative right. Feedback is positive when it informs a speaker that he's doing fine and to keep it up and it's negative whenever it tells him he's not hitting the mark and to stop doing well whatever he's doing and do something else. This girl was getting mostly positive feedback from her audience. But we don't want to leave the impression that positive feedback is better than negative actually negative feedback is more important as most of the time because only rarely are we doing exactly what we should be doing right. Instead where we're steering a kind of wavering course like balancing on a tightrope we're almost always on one side or the other and very seldom right in the middle. So we're tuned to listening for signals like not too far that way or not too far this way either. Negative feedback enables us to correct our mistakes it keeps us close at least to an even keel.
I have a recording of another conversation that's interesting in this respect Danny. I recorded my 5 year old boy Alaric while he was eating supper with his 4 year old friend Laura. Why Alec was in a silly mood and he claimed that his name was Tippy and that his dog hippies name was Alaric. A lot of course didn't believe this. And she asks him why he doesn't bark but Laura's pronunciation of the word bark is not clear to Alaric. Let's listen to this. For you. Thank you. They. Can't unite. And.
Yet they will. I don't. Think I Can You know rock band. Now I won't. How can I go right. Or wrong. How can. One. Man carry. Their comedy team Alaric has given Laura negative feedback signals which
she probably doesn't see the point of because of her pronunciation of bark is perfectly clear to her. But I suppose neither one of them is taking this failure in communication seriously and then the subject changes. Well after all I have children always took language seriously that they would be so frustrated with its complexities that they would never master it for children much conversation is simply play. Nevertheless this play illustrates all of the features of adult conversation. I have another recording of Alaric and Mark another 4 year old when they were pasting stars and sheets of paper they were talking about the number of stars and one remark led to another. I think. I am what I am. Well that's what happens when positive feedback goes too far. What began as a
handful of stars snowballed until the conversation became just a monologue and poor Alaric ran out a number of children's conversations are charming for adults to listen to because of this playfulness and also because of their naive today and the direct expression of their feelings. But when adults express their feelings directly the result is often dangerous. Positive feedback as in this case may take over and what begins as words rebounding may end up as fists rebounding or missiles. Adults simply must be more cautious because usually they're not playing well interesting and such an example would be for us today even more valuable is an illustration of the way people avoid the destructive potential of speech. This kind of caution that we've been talking about is common in the conversation to complete strangers in such a situation the outcome can be pleasant or unpleasant. Don't you realize this.
Also aware of the elaborate precautions necessary. It's hard of course to get a recording of a conversation like this but we managed it with a trick. We invited two students who we were sure had never met to take part in a program with us. When they arrived at the studio we placed them on each side of a microphone and then we left the room on the pretext that we were going to consult with the engineer before getting ready for the broadcast. Now what follows is a high fidelity recording of a conversation of a college boy and girl who had never been introduced and didn't even know each other's name. Notice the careful way in which they gather information about each other. This isn't a radio station either. Yeah this is good. Let's see Energon station that's run by the oh I guess it is a resinous Housing Administration and radio. This is the car this is FM and that's Liam say this is
just mostly education where you stand. French you know her but he says in French I know it's title French or me go oh my what are you on campus you know I'm me and I you know the all this home is that we have a wall that you have set out so that except for on this campus you know I remember the share coming up. What year are you from freshman time I remember coming up here last year and there I was having disputes between Ellsworth and I think they were just yeah we're sort of when they had disputes but I mean it's not saying the man appending the boys about tonight's birthday. Now that you're talking to you because Hokies really are taking everything you heard on the on the homecoming what they are just really therapy here just a mouthful get a shoe and then we have a we have a poor group this year though we we we didn't do anything.
I didn't help things on how they were doing very brazen display dorm display but we got a lazy group in there and we had a bunch of guys it would like to sleep. I'm going out. While these students are following some fairly rigid rules John. First of all I noticed that they were they felt they had to withhold direct probing questions until the ground was prepared and consequently they never asked two questions without some small talk in between. But they didn't always answer quickly and directly any questions like that. In fact the speech seemed rather fluent. Yes I noticed that both of them seemed ready and willing to let the conversation grow toward a friendly tone. In fact it seems to me that both felt a responsibility for keeping the conversation going while difficult as this somewhat stilted conversation was for them. They both realized that it was much more pleasant than than sitting all day long silent. Absolutely. I noticed some very interesting differences between this dialogue and the coffee break conversation.
The pace was a lot slower and their remarks didn't cut in on one another. Well strangers must follow rather strict rules rules which are printed in any books either. Intimate acquaintances on the other hand develop their own unwritten rules which may be very complex but which give them great freedom. They need to finish their sentences for example. They may interrupt they may express wide ranges of feeling. They may even indulge in playful speech. Freedom is the key here as you say. Human beings need the support of one another much of the time we have to use communication to simply inform one another about the business of the moment. In this kind of communication the moment puts some demands on us that restrict our freedom. The subject becomes all important the information is crucial but only some of the time we have to use communication to simply maintain our social existence. We call this small talk but I point today is that maintaining our relationships with other people is certainly not trivial. What we call
Smalltalk is a vehicle for what is everyone's biggest concern his social identity. Well the art of conversation is not just a matter of learning to be clever or profound about many subjects or to speak gracefully and I do not at all. Instead it's learning to be adroit in letting people know what we think we are. And also of course in being sensitive to the varied cues of others when they mean a great deal more than they're saying. This is such a fundamental purpose of speech irony that unless one learns to achieve it in small talk it will come to dominate our speech on other occasions. The senator for instance who is helping actually to decide the fate of the world may be unwittingly using the Senate chamber to find out whether his his friends really like him. On a serious you're saying that neglecting the Art of Small Talk can be disastrous not only for the individual but for society. Maybe we shouldn't belittle the importance of our teenagers long phone conversations.
After all learn from their learning a complex and dangerous game. Well I need TS Eliot realize the importance of small talk in his play at the cocktail party where he artfully contrived the kind of empty talk that he felt characterized some segments of modern society. Now here all is elegant and urbane while the real needs of the people talking are neglected. His dialog reveals talk that is not only small but also empty and hollow. I don't. Think you've missed the point completely Julia. There were no tigers. That was the point. What were you doing up in the tree when the Maharajah. My Julie is perfectly helpless you have to be listening you have to tell us all over again and I never tell the same story twice I'm still waiting to know what happened I know it started as a story about chi chi said they already know the type of wrangling both of you. If you want to Julia do tell that story the other day about Lady in the waiting game and how the back I found her in the pantry rinsing her mouth out with champagne I like that style and love that story.
I never tired of hearing that story really was the Internet. Do we all know it but we're never tired of hearing you tell it and I don't believe that everybody here knows it. You don't know it do you know I've never heard it here as well new listen of all you Julia and I did believe the dead would have had it but I don't remember. Julia is the only person to tell it she's such a good mimic and my goodness you are a good mimic you never miss anything she never misses anything unless she wants to fish me the Lithuanian X lady clue. I thought she was Belgian her father belonged to a Baltic family with a branch in Sweden and one in Denmark. There were several very lovely daughters I wonder what's become of them now. Lady Coats was very lovely Once upon a time before she lost her teeth and before she had three husbands bought a life she led. I used to say Do I agree you have too much vitality. But she enjoyed herself. Did you know you know I never met. Go on the story about the waiting game. Well I must confess John that I'd like to hear the rest of this amusing banter and maybe our audience would too. But lest we mistake art for reality dialogue intended to
be overheard for conversations that engage real personalities let's close with another snatch of that coffee party where the words may be indistinct and often hardly distinguishable. But where the feeling of life is genuine. How do. You know you're. Here.
You have been listening to where our minds meet. The discussion of human communication by professors John freind and Arnold Nelson where minds meet was produced and recorded by W-M UK under a grant from the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the Radio Network.
Where minds meet
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Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Speech on the Rebound: Conversation
Series Description
A series of discussions exploring world of speech, conducted by Professors John Freund and Arnold Nelson of Western Michigan University
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Social Issues
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Host: Freund, John
Host: Nelson, Arnold
Producing Organization: Western Michigan University
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-4-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:21
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Chicago: “Where minds meet; Conversation,” 1962-11-15, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024,
MLA: “Where minds meet; Conversation.” 1962-11-15. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Where minds meet; Conversation. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from