A Model of Conversation

We converse every day—so why would we need a model of conversation? (First, you might want to review something about models.)

Conversation loop

Conversation diagram, after Dubberly Design Office

If you want to improve something—that is, engage in an act of designing—then it’s extremely helpful to understand well what it is your trying to improve. So, if you’re trying to improve conversation—whether in an organization or team or service or app—then it’s useful to have a model of conversation.

Here’s an interpretation of Gordon Pask‘s model of conversation in the form of a diagram:

Here’s an outline of the five major elements of conversation in that diagram:

  • context = the moment in time and place where it starts—should be appropriate to the conversational content—no point in trying to sell me something when I’m checking whether my flight is late
  • language = what passes between the participants—must be shared enough and meaningful enough to create engagement—more than English or Chinese, it’s tone and intention and enough shared values to continue to…
  • exchange = the back-and-forth of messages that we usually think of as conversation
  • agreement = what we understand from each other and believe together, even if we agree to disagree about anything at all
  • transaction or action = what happens afterward as a direct result of the conversation.

If you want to remember the elements of conversation as expressed in this model, think C-L-E-A-T, for how to get traction in a conversation, like cleats on a shoe. It’s a bit hokey, I admit it.

If we want better conversation, we can improve the elements of a conversation individually or together. Here’s a paper for more about improving conversation by design.

But every model has limitations and the CLEAT model leaves out further benefits that may come as a consequence of conversation. For example, from the history of conversation we may form an on-going relationship and we may build trust. That can be powerful for many reasons. Because it may lead to much lower bio-cost. And it may lead to amity, as Pask liked to call it; the more general term is love. But that’s a model for another posting, to follow.