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Letís Get Talking!

How effective are our conversations?

by Brian Radcliffe (revised, originally published in 2011)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore ways of making personal communication more effective.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and two readers.


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 or simply with people with whom you’ve shared a few words.

These conversations will have taken place in various ways: they may have been face to face; on your mobile; in a set of emails or text messages; on a comment thread on Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp or Facebook; and maybe even on a Skype or FaceTime conversation with someone in a different country.

Pause to allow time for thought.

I wonder . . . were the conversations good? Do we consider that it was time well spent? Have they made us happy? Have they helped us plan the day?

Or . . . I wonder . . . 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?

That’s the problem with conversations. They don’t always turn out the way we expect. In fact, they can all too easily spiral out of control. Today, we’re going to think about our conversations and suggest some skills for how to make them constructive.

Have you noticed that a conversation always has at least two sides, and 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 downtown and you’ll never guess who we bumped into.

Reader 2: I really struggled with Section 3. Even my mum couldn’t help me.

Reader 1: We were standing outside McDonald’s, waiting for Nadia to come out, when we saw someone come round the corner.

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

Reader 1: I hadn’t seen him up-close 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 our teacher will understand?

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 people 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 WhatsApp messages. 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 respond after doing so. 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!

There’s a second point. Have you noticed that conversations feel different in different environments or contexts?

(Both Readers should move to stand at opposite sides of the presentation area.)

Text, email and any form of social media is rather like this in terms of good communication. It’s easy to misinterpret words on a screen. It’s like communicating from a distance.

(The Readers should move halfway towards each other.)

Skype and FaceTime are better because we 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.

(The Readers should move towards each other until they’re a metre apart.)

Best of all is talking face to face, though. If we have a conversation this way, we are sensitive to the subtleties of facial expression, gesture and tone of voice in a way that’s impossible in a WhatsApp message. There’s less likelihood of misunderstanding what’s meant.

Time for reflection

What’s your next conversation going to be? It would be a good idea to make sure that we are listening very carefully, responding thoughtfully and reading body language.

That way, hopefully, we’ll find that our friendships are stronger, our decisions are clearer and we 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.


‘Do you want to build a snowman?’ from the film Frozen. It is available at: (3.21 minutes long)

Publication date: June 2020   (Vol.22 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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