How to be a Successful Conversationalist

There are those people (or at least one person) in our lives who are fantastic story tellers, captivating our imaginations with every word.  There are also those people who are terrible at getting their point across. You know, that person that makes you cringe a little when the phone rings or you see that tiny speech bubble on Facebook turn red. Having a conversation shouldn’t be exhausting! There is a formula to having a pleasant, meaningful conversation with someone, and I’m confident that if you become aware of these 4 simple points you can make significant improvements.


Grice’s Cooperation Principle

  1. Quantity– contributors shouldn’t provide too little or too much information
  2. Quality– governed by truthfulness- aka: not lying
  3. Relation– should be relevant to the topic being discussed- try not to be constantly random
  4. Manner– each participant should be reasonably direct


Herbert Paul Grice was a philosopher who characterized conversations as “a form of cooperative activity.” This is true, you need two or more people to have a conversation. The 4 maxims or “rules of conduct” listed above are how Grice explained what’s to be expected from a conversation. Whether people are actually following these is a different story (and if it’s unclear whether they are or not, the conversation is hard to follow).

The principle of Manner is the maxim that is the least obvious, so let’s briefly discuss that. Its basic focus is organization. For example, if you are prompted to tell your life story, the proper thing to do is go in order from as far back as is suitable, up to the present day. You wouldn’t say, “Well, I went to high school in New York, and when I was five I became a big sister…” because that makes your listener jump around too much. You also seem confused yourself, as if you can’t remember things so you just say them as they come to you! The order information is presented to the listener will cause that listener to make inferences. A good example of this is the following:

“She graduated from college and got married.” vs. “She got married and graduated from college.”

My assumption is that these events happened in the order they are mentioned, so in the first sentence the woman graduated college prior to getting married.

Following these 4 maxims will make your conversations run much smoother. Let me know if being more aware of these helps you out! I’m always ready to read your comments!



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