7 December 2017

How to have a pleasant conversation? PhD Candidate Anne van Leeuwen investigated this

© iStockphoto.com/Steve Debenport

PhD Candidate Anne van Leeuwen, MA investigated the influence of conversation timing on the relationship between people. “A faltering conversation that's totally not going well. That phenomenon is what I put under a scientific magnifying glass.” Her research shows that it does not just matter WHAT you say and whether or not you let the preceding speaker finish, it also sometimes matters whether or not you say something to the rhythm of the preceding speaker. Anne van Leeuwen will have her PhD Defence of this research on 15 December 2017 at Utrecht University.

Conversation timing

During her PhD research, Van Leeuwen tried to find out whether or not certain forms of conversation timing between speakers can influence the relationship between those speakers. Some examples of this are the influence of interruptions or long silences during a conversation.

Anna van Leeuwen MA
Anne van Leeuwen MA

Being in the same rhythm

She also tried to translate insights from social psychology to conversation timing. Van Leeuwen: “We know for instance that while walking together, people rhythmically tune their stepping rhythm to each other and that this tuning provides a feeling of mutual connectivity. However, if something goes wrong in a certain way in the rhythmic tuning between people, if they are no longer in the same rhythm, that has a direct effect on the progression of that interaction and on the relationship between the interacting people.” The question that Van Leeuwen asks herself is whether or not being ‘in sync’ during a conversation also provides mutual connectivity.

Experiments

She also tried to translate insights from social psychology to conversation timing. Van Leeuwen: “We know for instance that while walking together, people rhythmically tune their stepping rhythm to each other and that this tuning provides a feeling of mutual connectivity. However, if something goes wrong in a certain way in the rhythmic tuning between people, if they are no longer in the same rhythm, that has a direct effect on the progression of that interaction and on the relationship between the interacting people.” The question that Van Leeuwen asks herself is whether or not being ‘in sync’ during a conversation also provides mutual connectivity.

Let each other finish

The results of her research clearly show that interruptions have a negative effect. Test subjects who listen to conversations in which speakers interrupt each other (top fragment below) frown more, and assess the speakers in that conversation as less mutually connected than when they listen to conversations in which speakers let each other finish (bottom fragment below).

Speakers interrupting each other:

Speakers letting each other finish:

Rhythmic fine-tuning

Rhythmic fine-tuning also seems to influence the degree of mutual connectivity. Test subjects who listen to conversations in which speakers respond too early, considering the rhythm of the previous speaker, assess the speakers in that conversation as less mutually connected than when they listen to conversations in which speakers are rhythmically fine-tuned to each other (bottom fragment below).

 

Speakers responding too early:

Rhythmically fine-tuned speakers:

It does not just matter WHAT you say and whether or not you interrupt the preceding speaker, it also sometimes matters whether or not you say something to the rhythm of the preceding speaker. Being ‘in sync’ with someone is not just an expression after all, it really is a sign of mutual connectivity in conversations.