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Why do we have conversations?

May 14, 2018 , by Dr Julian Northbrook

Why do we have conversations?

As human beings conversation is important. Nobody can deny that. Even the most introverted of us need conversation.

But what’s not quite so obvious…

… is why.

You might be tempted to think it’s all about exchanging information.

And this is partly true… but still not quite right.

The Evolutionary Perspective

To understand this, we’ve got to think from a biological and evolutionary perspective.

You see, Human beings aren’t the only living thing to “communicate”. Sure, we’re the only ones with a fully developed language system. But spoken language is only one means of communication… and other living things (whether animal or plant) have developed others.

Sounds, gestures, smell, colour, chemical interactions.

Think of a poison dart frog or a coral snake. Why do you think they’re so brightly coloured? Simple: to communicate to potential predators, “I will Kill you if you eat me… so fuck off.”

Bees communicate via complex dances that show other bees where pollen or water sources are.

You know how when you pick a flower or cut your lawn a sweet smell fills the air? Why is that? Well, it ain’t the plant trying to please you with a nice smell, I can tell you. Environmental ecologist James Cahill, University of Alberta says it’s actually to attract insects that come and eat the pests that eating the plants (thus causing them to release their insect-attracting chemicals).

Now, the next question is…

What’s the common denominator here?

And how does all this relate to why we human beings need conversation so much?

Simply put, It all comes down to survival.

Language and communication have always been about staying alive.

Go back about 100,000 years to the beginnings of homo-sapiens and (what we think) was the starting point of language, and you’d know not to eat those poisonous berries because you were TOLD that the caveman down the road ate them and died. But as I said at the beginning, there’s more to language than information exchange.

Because how do you know to trust that information? And how do you maintain strong bonds with your tribe so they’re there to fight by your side when attacked by another tribe?

Conversation. Small talk. Chit chat.

They’re all how we get to know other people, separate friend and foe and strengthen ties with the people we already know. Which is why you’d do well to perfect the art of everyday, casual English conversation…

The Advanced Conversation Masterclass

On June 9th in London, 1 pm to 4:30 pm I’ll be doing the Advanced English Conversation Masterclass — “Small Talk Superhero. We’re going to deep-dive into English conversation, advanced techniques, language, and making your English chit-chats more fun.

If you want to join us you can (and should) sign up here.


P.S. Remember Small Talk Superhero is live in London on June 9th – join us here.


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