Best Ways To Understand What Conversation Is

Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory.   Emily Post


My Attempt at Brazilian Conversation

I grew up in Brazil, South America. I attended a Brazilian, Portuguese speaking school, from kindergarten through fourth grade. From fifth grade on, I attended English-speaking schools. Nevertheless, I picked up perfect pronunciation and was conversant in Portuguese.

Until I moved to the United States. Here I was immersed in English. Then, one day at church, I happened to hear someone speaking Portuguese! It turned out there was a Brazilian gentleman, visiting Chicago for a while.

While I tried to speak to him, I felt myself get flushed and sweaty, as I tried to remember my Portuguese vocabulary.

Once I remembered the words, I then struggled with the syntax (which word goes where in the sentence). Every language has it’s particular grammatical syntax.

I stammered out a few lines, but I felt embarrassed and inadequate.

Conversation, for you, might be like talking in Portuguese was (and is) for me.

Perhaps you don’t know how to start a conversation or how to keep it going. And what about those awkward pauses in conversations?

Regardless of who you are, and what your experience with conversations has been, I aim to shift you from dread to confidence by asking the question, “What is Conversation?”

We have to understand the components of a subject before we can master it.

And it helps to know how those components fit together.

For example, it helped me to read the rules of the road and to understand all the ins and outs of driving before I got my driver’s license.

What is Conversation? Various Models/Definitions

Google –





From Wikipedia, I see that conversation is:

  • Two Way – between two or more people
  • Interactive (back and forth)
  • Spontaneous (this can take practice!)
  • Follows the Rules of Etiquette

I was curious about the “rules of etiquette”, so I’ve  referenced points from an article at the blog, the Art of Manliness, called The Art of Conversation.

In this article, the authors share 5 Do’s and 4 Don’ts of Conversation.  You can read the article for more detail, but I’m listing the main points here –


  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Come to an occasion armed with topics at the ready
  • Tailor the conversation to the listener
  • Take your turn
  • Think before you speak


  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t talk to only one person when conversing in a group.
  • Don’t engage in “one-upping.”
  • Don’t overshare


I found this explanation of what conversation is by Nathan Ketsdever, posted on this Quora Thread (What Makes a Conversation Flow

Here are a couple of core components of the dance of conversation:
• Reciprocity (both verbal and non-verbal)
• Storytelling
• Listening (core to the reciprocity)
• Questioning
• Progressive pealing back of the proverbial onion
• Conversational themes
• Surprise & Variety (emotional, tonal, & emphasis)

Dan Wendler and The Sandwhich

Dan Wendler, from Improve Your Social Skills, describes conversation with the clever analogy of making a sandwich.

Pretend you and a friend are working at a Subway.  On one end of the counter are half of the sandwich “fixings”; on the other end, are the other half.  So you split up.  While you’re working on making the sandwich, you add some items to the sandwich, then slide the sandwich down the counter to your friend on the other end, so that he can add some more items to the sandwich.

The process of talking while making the sandwich is like exchanging ideas together to create a conversation.

Of course, there are many more in-depth components, such as asking the right types of questions that invite the person to join in the conversation, creating inspiration so that the other person will want to join you naturally in the exchange of ideas, thus building greater intimacy in the relationship.

Good Conversation Resources

Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People

Mr. Carnegie’s advice is simple. Learn how to be genuinely interested in what you can learn about, and from, the person you’re communicating with. Be interested in topics that interest them. It’s an effective way to improve and maximize flow.

Dan Wendler – How to Make Conversation

Dan Wendler complied this $.99 Kindle guide.  You can’t go wrong for the price!

Related Conversation Articles from this Blog 

Conversation – The Building Block for Friendship

How To Carry On a Conversation

Discover These Secrets of Conversational Skill


It sure helps to know exactly what a definition is.  When I started working at my current job at Metlife, I was dazed as I heard so many acronyms, watched staff workers flip between what seemed like thousands of screens, and easily talk to customers about their claims.  But I still wasn’t sure exactly what it was I did.  But then our expert corporate trainers laid out the process in simple, easy to understand components, so that I better understood was private disability claims were all about.

In this article, I’ve shared some definitions of conversation, as well as some of the components of conversation to help you gain some understanding and confidence.

Does understanding what conversation is help you feel a bit more comfortable with the topic?  If you’ve a good conversationalist, what are some practical steps you took to become better?  If you’re still uncomfortable, what aspects of conversation do you struggle with?  Please share below!

Copyright: innovatedcaptures / 123RF Stock Photo

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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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  • Michael

    Conversation, 1 on 1, or 3 people is usually doable. Where I have problems (and I would think many others also) is in larger groups or noisy situations.

    1) This can become overwhelming to my senses/ nervous system. Too much noise.
    2) I find it difficult to filter out the noise. While trying to listen to one person, the noise level makes it very difficult to hear what they say. I become frustrated and stop being a part of things.
    3) Also being thrust into a conversation unprepared: “Here, why don’t you talk with Bob right now.” That can be very awkward as I try to gather myself and try to think of something to say, as often I’m focused on something else in my mind/attention. I can’t just switch gears like NTs seem to be able.


  • steveborgman

    Hi, Michael. Thank you for your input. NTs are a strange breed sometimes, aren’t they? Noise sensitivity is very real, and lack of preparation as well. If you don’t mind, I am going to reach out to some of my Aspergian contacts to see what “workarounds” they have used to deal with these challenges.