Many people find it difficult to give a speech, and it is not always easy to listen to one, but we are all pretty good at holding a conversation. Why is this? Surely, delivering a monologue or listening to one should be more natural than dialogue?
Think about it for a moment. We face all sorts of difficulties when we have a conversation. Here are just a few:
- We tend to talk in short, obscure, fragmentary utterances, so listeners need to fill in the missing information and interpret what we say. This means a listener must often wait for something to become clear or interrupt to clarify a point.
- We cannot plan a conversation ahead of time as we never know what our conversational partners may say or ask. A conversation has a habit of going where it wants to go and not where any of the participants wish to take it.
- When speaking, we need to consider our listeners and modify our use of language on the fly, so it is appropriate to the context, our listener’s level of understanding, or in a way that does not offend them.
- We need to decide when it is socially acceptable to interrupt the person speaking – to come in at just the right moment.
- We need to plan how we will respond, if at all, while simultaneously listening and, in a multi-party conversation, deciding who to address.
It shouldn’t be easy, should it? But like me, until recently, I suspect you have never given it a second thought.
If you are interested in a scientific answer, then take a look at the paper. Why is conversation so easy? by Simon Garrod and Martin Pickering. They say it’s because the interactive nature of dialogue supports the interactive alignment of linguistic representations. I will leave you to make sense of that.
But the simple answer is that evolution has “wired” our brains for dialogue rather than monologue.
If we are designed to talk with each other rather than at each other, why do we insist on inflicting monologic lectures on each other?