Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Talk: The Science of Conversation

Rate this book
We spend much of our days talking. Yet we know little about the conversational engine that drives our everyday lives. We are pushed and pulled around by language far more than we realize, yet are seduced by stereotypes and myths about communication.

This book will change the way you think about talk. It will explain the big pay-offs to understanding conversation scientifically.

Elizabeth Stokoe, a social psychologist, has spent over twenty years collecting and analysing real conversations across settings as varied as first dates, crisis negotiation, sales encounters and medical communication. This book describes some of the findings of her own research, and that of other conversation analysts around the world.

Through numerous examples from real interactions between friends, partners, colleagues, police officers, mediators, doctors and many others, you will learn that some of what you think you know about talk is wrong. But you will also uncover fresh insights about how to have better conversations - using the evidence from fifty years of research about the science of talk.

288 pages, Paperback

Published November 29, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Elizabeth Stokoe

8 books10 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
28 (23%)
4 stars
44 (37%)
3 stars
31 (26%)
2 stars
14 (11%)
1 star
1 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Moh. Nasiri.
291 reviews100 followers
October 20, 2019
Talk: CARM (Conversational Analytic Role-Play)
We converse spontaneously, but that doesn’t mean our conversations are random. Actually, most conversations are made up of key building blocks and follow predictable patterns. Understanding conversational elements and how they fit together is the best method for analyzing and improving how we talk, and for avoiding conversational pitfalls that create friction and misunderstandings. 

Profile Image for Rehmat.
122 reviews
April 1, 2020
I have observed most of the community reviewers have marked this book as three stars but mine one is four because the book explores at best the art of conversation. This book totally different from other books written on art of communication as the former is devoted mainly on informal daily conversations made spontaneously and randomly while the latter are dedicated to formal communication like running and attending meetings or persuasions or negotiations etc.

No doubt, most conversations are made up of key building blocks and follow predictable patterns. Understanding conversational elements and how they fit together is the best method, this book teaches, for analyzing and improving how you talk, and for avoiding conversational pitfalls that create friction and misunderstandings. That's all about this book guides you the techniques. I recommend to friends to get its copy and read it.
Profile Image for Riccardo.
38 reviews12 followers
June 18, 2019
The book is a well written and entertaining introduction to many phenomena investigated in the analysis of the way we talk. I'm happy to have read it, but I have a couple of deep dissatisfactions (as somebody who also studies the way we talk).

1. The epistemic perspective
The book walks a difficult line between the emic perspective of Conversation Analysis (what matters is how speakers display reaction to X) and a more evidence based perspective (this is a recurrent pattern in the data) without really going quantitative and experimental (how recurrent? how generalizable? Can we manipulate it reliably? Etc.). I feel a qualitative person would feel disappointed in the overall attempt at giving generalizable evidence. I know I feel disappointed in the lack of statistical inferences. How frequent are these patterns? Do they change (and how) over time in the person? According to the context? According to the language? Giving 3 examples and claiming generality is a hard sale.

2. The general theory
I felt the book was very scattered conceptually. There are a few underlying theoretical threads, but no explicit spelled out theoretical argument developed throughout the book. Probably related to 1.
Profile Image for Nat.
611 reviews59 followers
March 26, 2020
I am co-editing a volume of papers on "Applied Philosophy of Language", and it would have been interesting to have included some of the kind of applied conversational analysis discussed here, but I confess I wasn't familiar with the Harvey Sacks-style approach to conversation until meeting Mark Dingemanse at the Stanford Humanities Center in 2017. There's a lot for philosophers of language to chew on here, starting with the value of just looking at lots of examples of speech occurring in natural (non-experimental) situations. Turns out that you can observe a lot just by looking. As philosophers get more interested in previously marginalized aspects of language, like discourse markers, it's inevitable that they'll start thinking more about fine-grained discourse structure that starts to incorporate meaningful pauses, intakes of breath, overlapping talk, etc. Linguists are already all over that stuff--for example:

Dingemanse, M. (2020). Between sound and speech: Liminal signs in interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 53(1), 188-196. doi:10.1080/08351813.2020.1712967.

So there's lots for philosophers here, even if it isn't framed within a general theory of communication of the kind that philosophers are used to.
12 reviews
January 17, 2022
This book is to the science of conversation as the book Thinking Fast and Slow is to cognitive psychology. Firstly, the book attempts to justify conversation analysis as a science. It uses logical inferences to do so. It provides all evidence required to make these analyses and it admits that whilst some of it's assumptions are not reflective of perfect generalisations, that at least by following the basic assumptions of a few rules i.e. conversational units, turn pairs, preferred responses, word suggestibility, we can predict where a conversation is going and it's likely outcome. This book is incredibly interesting because it dares the reader to try some of the analysis for oneself. Therein lies the ending of the book, with general rules to follow to improve conversation. Namely...forget analysing at all whilst you are talking! You'll be doing it subconsciously anyway so don't worry about it. Truthfully, if I could summarise this book in a sentence: "All talk serves a function, conversation analysis is a means to figure out talk's functionality". Incredibly interesting book, with some genuine laugh out loud moments too but this is few and far between as I would describe this book towards the academic ("dry") side. That may be personal preference though. Of course I am not educated enough in the field to say whether this methodology is the correct way to analyse conversation, but it certainly replaces my previous model of conversation which is "be nice and good conversations happen". Be warned! Unless you read right through to the end you might end up like me and incredibly socially awkward being introduced to these concepts until you read the tips at the end to generally be a natural, humble type of person who happens to know a few key words that steer conversation (you'll learn a few of those)! Overall, I feel like a more socially aware human for reading this book, which approached things without dipping it's head in the sand as a lot of these types of books do. If the author is reading this review, chances are I've given something away. Damn it.
Profile Image for Synthia Salomon.
640 reviews13 followers
October 19, 2019
“We converse spontaneously, but that doesn’t mean our conversations are random. Actually, most conversations are made up of key building blocks and follow predictable patterns. Understanding conversational elements and how they fit together is the best method for analyzing and improving how we talk, and for avoiding conversational pitfalls that create friction and misunderstandings. 
Actionable advice:
Use your words!
Trying to improve communication strategies at work? Don’t reach for a tired role-play. Recording and analyzing actual interactions will give you far more accurate insight into how your communications can be enhanced. The best way to do this is to create a body of real-time recorded conversations. With your employees’ permission, start recording real-time interactions. Phone conversations or meetings are a great place to start. Once you have enough raw material, you’ll be able to identify conversational problems and strategize solutions.”
25 reviews
June 11, 2020
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Its layout and personable tone made for an easy read and had me engrossed for chapters on end. Liz ran a criminology module that I studied at Loughborough university in my final year (2017) and it became the reason I studied an MSc Psychology conversion. I’ve always been a self-confessed logophile and fascinated by anything that explores and makes sense of language. This book, for me, encapsulates both the wonders of language and psychological insight and truly did change the way I think about talk. It is packed with take home points, models and references that I will go back to in years to come.
38 reviews
July 10, 2020
I read this book because I listened to the Blink on Blinkist. I thought the topic sounded really interesting.

The book was an interesting read, but it could have been better. The author spends A LOT of time justifying the existence of conversation analysis. Drop all the justification and maybe take up less physical space with the examples and there would be room for more interesting topics.

I found chapters 5 and 6 to be the most interesting. The topics in those chapters were things that I can see in every day life and relate to.
59 reviews
August 8, 2020
I completed a dissertation for my MSc using the methods of discursive psychology some years ago so I was familiar with conversation analysis and the idea of talk as action through which we can achieve certain objectives. The book reminded me of some key findings in the field and introduced me to some others. I found much of the material interesting but was confused by the structure. To me it felt a bit haphazard. Would have preferred a clearer and more logical ordering of the contents.
Profile Image for Marcus Whybrow.
21 reviews3 followers
April 3, 2019
Useless. Postmodernist.

“Words are important.” Yes. I know. I agree.

Can we talk about that now? Some depth? No, just reams of shallow taxonomy. And postmodern preoccupations throughout!

If you’re already curious about speech, you’ll be mostly bored with this 300 page admonishment. I learned some things, mostly accidentally, mostly derived from my own thoughts.
Profile Image for Minh Ngoc Pham.
119 reviews5 followers
October 22, 2022
I thought it would be pedagogical or pop psyc to talk about talk, but it is not.
The book can be divided in 3 main parts: explaining the method of conversation analysis, basics of conversational turns and examples of language-based nudge.
Like the examples and demonstration of conversation analysis at work.
Profile Image for Rachid Rd.
31 reviews2 followers
February 24, 2020
One of the main take from the book is 'look at actual and real data'.
The book is full of examples and qualitative analyses. Yet, I wish some findings would be extended to the full corpus with quantitative analyses to draw final conclusions.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rich.
23 reviews
September 10, 2020
As an aspiring conversational designer for chatbots, this book opened up a whole new way of analysing conversation flow design. From language use to listening and breaking down myths, very worth while read.
Profile Image for Scott.
123 reviews2 followers
October 21, 2021
Took some initial perseverance but the application and psychology really took off at the end - fascinating new way to think about how we express ourselves.
22 reviews
January 16, 2023
Interesting content from a conversational linguistics researcher. Lots of conversation examples, and well explained content but felt like skimming the surface of the field
3 reviews
January 25, 2019
I found this very readable with lots of conversation examples that help to dispel some of the myths of conversation (e.g. that women talk more than men). It really makes the reader think about some of the ways that we ask questions and how we might rephrase them to get better quality responses.
Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.