The Psychology of Constructing a Conversation A game of catch goes nowhere unless you have a partner who catches the ball and throws it back to you.

Similarly, a conversation goes nowhere unless you have a partner who listens to what you’re saying and responds in a way that keeps the conversation going.

A good conversation is constructed by a speaker and a listener each doing their part. A great conversation is constructed with respectful, interesting, enriching content. You learn something. You teach something. Your knowledge increases. Your curiosity is piqued. You relish the time spent together.

The prototype for a great conversation is a couple in love. They make good eye contact. Listen well. Speak with enthusiasm. Value what the other person says. Feel valued by the other person. Disagree respectfully. Enjoy each other.

The prototype for a poor conversation is modern Congress.

In today’s Congress, what passes for communication is pontificating your beliefs while mocking your opponents’. Nobody listens. Nobody learns. Nobody appreciates the subtleties of the others’ argument. Is it any wonder that the respect Americans have for Congress is at an all-time low?

To construct our own great conversations, we need to listen and speak respectfully. No need to be starry-eyed lovers. But do everything you can to avoid the Congressional model.

Want to improve your conversational skills? Avoid these common conversational breakers:


  • Going on and on without giving the other person a chance to talk. (Yakkety, yak, yak, yak)
  • Pontificating. (Of course, it’s done this way. How else?)
  • Confusing listening with obeying. (Why aren’t you listening to me? I told you to do it this way!)
  • Making a definitive statement without explaining your position. (This is what has to be done.)


  • Listening while multi-tasking. (Checking your phone messages as you listen.)
  • Responding with frequent “Yes, but” statements. (“Yes, but I don’t want to do it.”)
  • Interrupting with a rebuttal. (“I know what you’re saying and it’s ridiculous.”)
  • Rolling your eyes or displaying other disrespectful body language.

Do you admit to doing any of these no-nos? Good. I respect your honesty. You are more sincere than one who deflects his own behavior by blaming others. “I don’t listen because you give me too many details.” “I only use that tone of voice because you never listen.”

It’s true that good speaking skills enhance people’s ability to listen. But you shouldn’t have to be an award-winning speaker to get a loved one to listen. Similarly, good listening skills encourage good speaking skills. But you shouldn’t have to be a topflight listener to get a loved one to speak respectfully to you.

Speaking well and listening well create an extraordinary game of catch in which both of you feel energized, enriched, respected and valued. Good goal to aim for, don’t you think?



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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Mar 2013
    Published on All rights reserved.

APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2013). The Psychology of Constructing a Conversation. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 26, 2015, from


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