People start conversations for a wide variety of reasons:
- resolving disputes
- seeking solace
- exchanging gossip
- maintaining friendships
One would assume that when people start a conversation with the same goal, the conversation ends when the goal is reached. Or that it ends when at least one person has achieved their goal.
However, a Harvard University study shows that conversations almost never ended when both conversationalists wished it to (only 1.59% of all conversations ended this way, and only in 30% when one of the conversationalists wished it to).
The assumption is that this is a coordination problem:
- Since, for example, the conversation have incompatible desires
- Or one tries to anticipate the wish/goal of the counterpart.
However, in order to know the goal of the counterpart, decisive information is missing. Precisely this information is often deliberately withheld in a conversation in order not to disturb the relationship of trust.
This can be problematic because…
… it means
- the people in the conversation don't get what they wanted because they both wanted to talk longer than they did
- Or people may refrain from talking because it is so difficult to end a conversation coherently
So the more we learn about conversations the better we are able to maximize their benefits.
Mastroianni, A. M., Gilbert, D. T., Cooney, G. & Cooney, G. D. (2021). Do conversations end when people want them to?. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118 (10), https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2011809118