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Talk, talk: How effective are our conversations?

To explore ways of making personal communication more effective (SEAL theme: Social skills).

by Brian Radcliffe

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore ways of making personal communication more effective (SEAL theme: Social skills).

Preparation and materials

  • Prepare two readers.


  1. Leader  How many conversations have you already had today? They may have been at home, on the way to school, with your form tutor, with your friends, as well as with people with whom you’ve simply shared one or two words.

    These conversations will have taken place in a variety of different ways: there may have been face to face, spoken conversations; chats on your mobile; a set of responsive emails or texts; an exchange on Facebook, maybe even a Skype or Facetime conversation with someone in a different country.


    Were the conversations good?
    Do you consider it was time well spent?
    Have they made you happy?
    Have they helped you plan the day?


    Has a conversation given rise to some doubt or confusion?
    Is there anything you regret saying or writing?
    Do you wonder whether the conversation will continue?
  2. That’s the problem with conversations. They don’t always turn out the way we expect. In fact, they all too easily spiral out of control. Today I’m going to try to help you by suggesting some skills for constructive conversations.
  3. Have you noticed that a conversation always has at least two sides, sometimes many more than two? Listen to this conversation.

    Reader 1  I had an amazing time last night.

    Reader 2  Did you do the maths homework?

    Reader 1  We went down town, and you’ll never guess who we bumped into.

    Reader 2  I really struggled with section 3. Even my mum wasn’t able to help me.

    Reader 1  We were stood outside McDonald’s, waiting for Joe to come out, when round the corner he came.

    Reader 2  It made me wonder whether there wasn’t a mistake in the textbook.

    Reader 1  I hadn’t seen him close up before, but there’s no doubt it was him.

    Reader 2  I’m just going to have to admit that I haven’t done it. Do you think he’ll understand?
  4. Leader  There are two sides to this conversation but they don’t appear to meet in the middle, do they?

    That’s because a conversation is not just about what two want to say. It’s about the process of listening as well as speaking.

    It’s no different if the conversation is a series of texts. Reading and understanding before responding is essential if a constructive dialogue is to be achieved.

    Maybe it would be a good idea to pause after each thing that we hear or say, consider whether we fully understand, and only then respond.

    Another way to put that would be: ‘Engage brain before using mouth.’ There’s an old saying: we have two ears but only one mouth!
  5. There’s a second point. Have you noticed that conversations feel different in different environments or contexts?

    (Reader 1 and Reader 2 move to stand at opposite sides of the presentation area)

    Text, email and Facebook are rather like this in terms of good communication. It’s easy to misinterpret words on a screen. It’s like communicating from a distance.

    (Reader 1 and Reader 2 move halfway towards each other)

    Skype and Facetime are better. We do get a face to look at and the context is more informal. As we listen, we can make out the tone of voice, but it can still be distorted or broken up.

    (Reader 1 and Reader 2 move towards each other until they’re a metre apart)

    If I’m face to face with the person with whom I’m holding the conversation, I’m sensitive to the subtleties of facial expression, gesture and tone of voice in a way that’s impossible in a text message. There’s less likelihood of misunderstanding what’s meant.

Time for reflection

What’s your next conversation going to be? May I suggest that you focus on:

- getting as close as you can
- listening very carefully
- responding thoughtfully.

This way, hopefully, you’ll find that your friendships are stronger, your decisions clearer and you suffer fewer misunderstandings.


Dear Lord,

thank you for conversation.

Thank you for news to share,

suggestions to make

and questions to ask.

May I listen and read carefully,

respond thoughtfully
and live without regret.


‘Talk’ by Coldplay

Publication date: January 2013   (Vol.15 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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