Conversational Dynamics

userpic=oh-shitMany years ago, in a conversation with Larry Wall and the Biggars, the subject of conversational dynamics came up — specifically, of why people view other speakers as rude. Someone in the discussion posited the notion that it was a protocol mismatch. The theory was that there were three different speaking protocols: (1) Wait for a significant pause in the conversation to start; (2) Wait for any pause in the conversation to start; and (3) Just start (Ethernet style). The notion was that you are raised in a household with a particular style; when you get people of different styles together, the behavior is interpreted as rude. I grew up Ethernet style, because that was the only way I could get into the discussion.

Today, my friend Kat on Facebook posted a very interesting article that posited a different theory: “Interrupters? Linguist says it’s Jewish way“. This author believes that “high-involvement cooperative overlapping” is a typical Jewish conversation style. What is “Cooperative overlapping? Talking as another person continues to speak.

Evidently, the pattern of conversation found among many Jews from New York and its environs, especially those of Eastern European origin, differs in significant ways from that of most non-Jewish Americans from the South, Midwest and West. Along with cooperative overlap, Jewish-style conversational patterns include a “fast rate of speech, the avoidance of inter-turn pauses and faster turn-taking among speakers.” In a conversation among Jews, participants find the simultaneous talk and quick turn-taking unremarkable; they interpret silences and pauses as evidence of lack of rapport and/or interest. But those not accustomed to that style, according to the author, may see such active listening behaviors as rudeness, verbal hogging and lack of interest in the speaker. The very characteristics that promote good conversation among the in-group can create discomfort or hostility among mixed groups.

Other features of Jewish conversational style, according to the article, include a preference for personal topics, abrupt shifts of topics, unhesitating introduction of new topics and persistence in reintroducing a topic if others don’t immediately pick up on it. Jews also tend to tell more stories in their conversations, often in rounds; dramatize the point of a story instead of putting it into words; and focus on the emotional experience of it. People whose regional and ethnic background promotes a different way of conversing may not “get the point” of these rounds of story-sharing with no real plot. They also may find the expectation of personal revelation unnervingly intrusive.

In other words…. protocol clash.

OK. Umm, discuss?