Where minds meet; Conversation
The. Only. Thing I read here. Great place. We're 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. Would snap human communication 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 UK. I'm sure 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 that 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 a 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'll hear now. Let's pick it up where they were talking about shoes. Really. Really great.
I. Know they're interested enough in that topic but maybe she was isn't really the topic but only the opportunity to talk about money style and status. Well whatever the topic it's good for only about a minute and a half. I one of the girls is going to try to take advantage of the pause wrecker's so she can turn the conversation is something that she's more concerned about. She'll say 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. Yeah right. Yeah yeah yeah you. Heard Craig. Thank you. You know you're really ready.
Yeah. Oh 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. You're. Right I know. I think you're right. Why.
Can't you. I think it was apparent 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 certainly. What's the meaning of this. Well John as we said before that the topics of the conversation generally are incidental to the more serious consideration of well 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. 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 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 come on the program to the 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 the 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 that 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. Notice how her audience helps her achieve this purpose.
We were elated. Thank you thank you thank. You Thank You For me going out again. I'm. Thank you I think they can get them. Thank you thank you. Well honey that girl succeeded in their purpose. The audience laughed. She certainly did succeed. She got off to a slow start though. I noticed that the very first
laughter was her room. This is 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 from granite to one thing and if you can appreciate my mother's guys like me as well and the record it was probably a few years ago. We were going from granite thing to see you again. My brother was playing
so we drove from and I just really had to know how to entertain gaff and I thought I'm not too bright to pull you back to the high school that we'd better get some gas was he right and the gas station and she whipped our window and she had this guy to darn things I want to know I was with the gas and she rolls back up and went on as the poor guy is going around with the powder into the home of their website holding stand there with. The I AM mother here command get your gas and get rowdy no thought this time my girlfriend and I looked back and saw the start of the kind of phase and we were down there laughing so hard we can understand some other sheepishly back of the car goes back to the window and the man. Puts again thin and he comes by the window and he holds rope right to the ring lasers if you wait here you think maybe you'd like to hear my mother's I don't know I'm famous you know. Thank you. She rolls up the window. Thank you.
Well that's really pretty flat. She didn't really laugh at all this time 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 modern standard 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 in. John which is earlier 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 getting them aren't going to stop doing whatever he's doing and do something else. This girl was getting mostly positive feedback from her audience but I 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 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. I Alaric was in a silly mood and he claimed that his name was Tippy and that his dog to please name was Alaric. 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. Right. Now you think you think you know. OK. OK. You can't. You're right.
And yet. I don't. Know. And. Now me. How are you. How can you. Write
their comedy team. Alaric is giving 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. 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 Laura 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.
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. Adults realize this and are 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 the radio station either. Yeah this is a good idea. Well let's see Energon station that's run by the JAG as it has resonance. How's a good mystery and the radio.
This is the car this is FM and that's lamb. Say this is mostly education or eastern French and her base is in French and I'm not saying i'm french you're me go along. Why what are you on campus. You know I'm me and I you know the old school is that you know it's all me and you said I thought except for on this campus you know. I remember the share climbing up what year are you. I'm freshman I remember coming up here last year and their eyes having disputes between Ellsworth and I think they were Irish Jack we're saw plenty of disputes but I mean it's not there I sang the man of handing the boys about tonight's birthday. Now this year it's hokey. So you could hold views really are taking everything you heard on there and I homecoming what they are just really therapy here.
It's the mental get a shoe in and we have a we have a poor group this year though we we we didn't do anything I didn't help things and how we did a very good way and I just don't despite that we are lazy group and we had a bunch of guys that would like to sleep don't go 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 did 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 a somewhat stilted conversation was for them. They both realized that it was much more pleasant than than sitting on a long silence. 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 at least some of the time we have to use communication to simply
maintain our social existence. We call this small talk but our 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 then is not just a matter of learning to be clever or profound about many subjects or to speak gracefully and elegant 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 it is his friends really like him
or not 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 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 dear Julia is perfectly helpless you haven't been 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 I said
Delaware no time to stop wrangling both of you if you want to. Julia do tell that story and tell the other day about Lady in the waiting and how the back I found her in the pantry rinsing her mouth out with champagne I like that started up that story. I never tired of hearing that story you all seem to know you 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. He has one new list of all you Julia and I did believe that he had 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 Lithuania next clue. I thought she was Belgian. His 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 lively 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 never
know I never met. Go on with the story about the wedding. Well I must confess John that I'd like to hear the rest of this amusing banter and maybe our audience who 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. Here I am right here right now. Do you know.
- Where minds meet
- Producing Organization
- Western Michigan University
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Speech on the Rebound: Conversation
- A series of discussions exploring world of speech, conducted by Professors John Freund and Arnold Nelson of Western Michigan University
- Social Issues
- Media type
Host: Freund, John
Host: Nelson, Arnold
Producing Organization: Western Michigan University
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 63-4-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Where minds meet; Conversation,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 26, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wd3q1187.
- MLA: “Where minds meet; Conversation.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 26, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wd3q1187>.
- 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 http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-wd3q1187