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Why do we talk (for what reasons do we communicate)?

December 7th, 2009 Kevin Leave a comment Go to comments

We love stories. Before modern media we listened to people in person. We imagined the scenes they described. We heard their tall tales, listened for ancient myths, and waited as wonderfully elaborate legends began to unfold.

To this day we call up fables, parables, metaphors and analogies. These stories deeply imbedded within our language seep into our talks and make a mark on most every discussion. Each of these language devices is a story we share in common with friends and strangers alike as we travel through life. We visit one another and let these collective stories surround us, so that we may better understand each other.

There are also two bigger stories in each talk. Aside from the parables and metaphors, there is also the story we listen for and add to as we talk (the content story) and the one we participate in as we listen and speak (the context story, or, the biggest story of them all). There you go, getting two stories for the price of one.

For this post I am interested in that second story. That story explains the reasons we communicate in the first place. That is almost always the story that matters more than the content story. In other words, what we say means something to us and makes sense and what folks take away from what we said counts most for them because that is how they make sense. And these are not always the same! The take away can very much depend on the purposes for communicating in the first place. So, what are they, anyway?

Why do we talk? And by that I mean, for what reasons do we communicate? Some reasons:

1. to connect

2. to control

3. to express

4. to learn

5. to teach

6. to relate (establish, maintain, and adjust relationships)

7. to share (what’s on our minds, in our hearts, and from our guts)

8. to compliment

9. to experience

10. to be

How does this list match your own? It is interesting when you list them out like this. Did you try? How did you do? Disagree? Have some to add? So, for what reasons do you communicate?

The more I become aware of this question, the more I see the story within/outside a story. So if there are always two stories unfolding, where are they? Next to each other, one on top of the other? Are they even connected? If so, how so? That relationship between the content story and the context story can be critical for meaning and understanding. Or more simply, getting along!

Maybe we don’t look for the second story because it’s the one that makes the least and most sense. As Dan Areily, an author and researcher, points out, we are highly predictable in our irrationality! Part of our unique gifts and quirks involves not disclosing that second story. For whatever reason (etiquette, politeness, shyness, forgetfulness), we rarely talk about the second story. Instead, we often fixate on the first story, the one with words leading the charge.

I have a hunch: being aware of that second story can completely transform the first!

Do we even know the reasons we communicate? Do we ever ask [ourselves first, then others]? This has been a good question for me to ponder in my talks lately. And truly, with a great sense of wonder, I enter into my conversations curious: for what reasons do we communicate? The story that unfolds is equally as exciting as the one hogging all the content and words.

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  1. Mary Carroll
    May 18th, 2011 at 01:06 | #1

    I was just making a list of reasons we communicate, and when I got stuck, I decided to google it and see if anyone else had composed one! Very interesting topic! I have a few on my list that are not on yours, ie…to provoke, abuse, or get attention. As well as to be stimulated, to be challenged, to explore.

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