The Skilled Art of Conversational Interaction: Verbal and Nonverbal Signals in Its Regulation and Management

  • Geoffrey W. Beattie
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 11)


This chapter will differ from many others in this book because it concentrates upon one specific, single, low-level social skill. Many of the other chapters will provide broad and general accounts of higher-level skills and direct criticism of the concept of social skills. This chapter will provide a different kind of criticism of social skills by presenting an argument almost in the form of a fable (and I don’t mean by this that the story is untrue), in that the chapter will, hopefully, illustrate some general principles (in this case, of skilled social performance) by providing a detailed account of one low-level but common phenomenon. Unlike the characters from traditional fables — the woodcutters, the bakers and the shoe menders — the central figure in this story has not been chosen at random. The central figure in this story, the process of turn-taking in conversation — seems to have always been near the centre of the stage in attempts by social psychologists to apply the concept of skill to social performance (see Argyle, 1967, 1974; Argyle & Kendon, 1967). Here, I want to provide a detailed and up-to-date account of the way in which this phenomenon has been approached by social psychologists. Through so doing, I hope to demonstrate that psychologists are now, at last, coming to grips with the complexity and richness of some of the more basic processes which underlie all skilled social performance.


Nonverbal Behaviour Traffic Signal Traffic Light Spontaneous Speech Conversational Interaction 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Anderson, B. J., 1977, The emergence of conversational behaviour. J.Commun., 27(2):85–91.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, B. J. and Vietze, P., 1977, Earlydialogues: the structure of reciprocal infant-mother vocalization, in: “Child Development: A Study of Growth Processes” (2nd Ed.), S. Cohen and T. J. Comiskey, eds., Peacock, Itasea, Illinois.Google Scholar
  3. Argyle, M., 1967, “The Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour”, Penguin, Harmondsworth.Google Scholar
  4. Argyle, M., 1974, “Social Interaction, Methuen, London.Google Scholar
  5. Argyle, M. and Kendon, A., 1967, The experimental analysis of social performance, in: “Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 3”, L. Berkowitz, ed., Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Ball, P., 1975, Listener responses to filled pauses in relation to floor apportionment, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 14:423–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bateson, G., 1973, “Steps to an Ecology of Mind”, Paladin, St. Albans.Google Scholar
  8. Bateson, G., Jackson, D. D., Haley, J. and Weakland, J., 1956, Toward a theory of schizophrenia, Beh.Sci., 1:251–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bateson, M. C., 1975, Mother-infant exchanges: the epigenesis of conversational interaction, Ann.N.Y.Acad.Sci., 263:101–113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Beattie, G. W., 1977, The dynamics of interruption and the filled pause, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 16:283–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Beattie, G. W., 1978a, Floor apportionment and gaze in conversational dyads, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 17:7–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Beattie, G. W., 1978b, Sequential temporal patterns of speech and gaze in dialogue, Semiotica, 23(1/2): 29–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Beattie, G. W., 1978c, Language production processes and the organisation of nonverbal behaviour in conversational interaction, Socioling.Newsletter, IX, 2:31–33.Google Scholar
  14. Beattie, G. W., 1979, Planning units in spontaneous speech: some evidence from hesitation in speech and speaker gaze direction, in conversation, Linguistics, 17:61–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Beattie, G. W., in press a, The regulation of speaker-turns in face-to-face conversation: some implications for conversation in sound-only communication channels, Semiotica.Google Scholar
  16. Beattie, G. W., in press b, Encoding units in spontaneous speech: some implications for the dynamics of conversation, in: “Temporal variables in speech: studies in honour of Frieda Goldman-Eisler”, H. W. Dechert and M. Raupach, eds., Janua Linguarum, Mouton, The Hague.Google Scholar
  17. Beattie, G. W., in press c, The role of language production processes in the organisation of behaviour in face-to-face interaction, in: “Language Production”, B. Butterworth, ed., Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
  18. Beattie, G. W., in press d, Contextual constraints on the floor-apportionment function of gaze in dyadic conversation, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy..Google Scholar
  19. Beattie, G. W. and Barnard, P. J., 1979, The temporal structure of natural telephone conversations (directory enquiry calls). Linguistics.Google Scholar
  20. Boomer, D. S., 1965, Hesitation and grammatical encoding, Lang. Speech, 8:148–158.Google Scholar
  21. Bugental, D. E., Love, L. R., Kaswan, J. W. and April, C., 1971, Verbal-nonverbal conflict in parental messages to normal and disturbed children, J.Abnorm.Psy., 77(1):6–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Butterworth, B., 1975, Hesitation and semantic planning in speech, J.Psycholing.Res., 4:75–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Butterworth, B. and Beattie, G. W., 1978, Gesture and silence as indicators of planning in speech, in: “Recent Advances in the Psychology of Language: Formal and Experimental Approaches”, R. N. Campbell and P. T. Smith, eds., Plenum, New York.Google Scholar
  24. Butterworth, B., Hine, R. R. and Brady, K. D., 1977, Speech and interaction in sound-only communication channels, Semiotica, 20:81–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Chappie, E. D. and Lindemann, E., 1942, Clinical implications of measurements of interacting rates in psychiatric interviews. App.Anthrop., 1:1–11.Google Scholar
  26. Chomsky, N., 1968, “Language and Mind”, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York.Google Scholar
  27. Chomsky, N., 1972, “Problems of Knowledge and Freedom”, Fontana, London.Google Scholar
  28. Cook, M. and Lalljee, M. G., 1970, The interpretation of pauses by the listener, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 9:375–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Cook, M. and Lalljee, M. G., 1972, Verbal substitutes for visual signals in interaction, Semiotica, 6:212–221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. De Long, A. J., 1974, Kinesic signals at utterance boundaries in pre-school children, Semiotica, 11:43–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. De Long, A. J., 1975, Yielding the floor: the kinesic signals, Commun. in Infancy & Early Childhood, 1:98–103.Google Scholar
  32. Duncan, S., 1972, Some signals and rules for taking speaking turns in conversations, J.Personal. & Soc.Psy., 23:283–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Duncan, S., 1973, Toward a grammar for dyadic conversation, Semiotica, 9:29–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Duncan, S., 1974, On the structure of speaker-auditor interaction during speaking turns, Lang. in Society, 2:161–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Duncan, S., 1975, Interaction units during speaking turns in dyadic face-to-face conversations, in: “The Organization of Behaviour in Face-to-Face Interaction”, A. Kendon, R. M. Harris and M. R. Key, eds., Mouton, The Hague.Google Scholar
  36. Duncan, S. and Fiske, D. W., 1977, “Face-to-Face Interaction: Research, Methods and Theory”, Lawrence Erlbaum, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  37. Elzinga, R. H., 1978a, Temporal organization of conversation, Socioling.Newsletter, 9(2):29–31.Google Scholar
  38. Elzinga, R. H., 1978b, Temporal aspects of Japanese and Australian conversation, Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Australian National University, Canberra.Google Scholar
  39. Exline, R. V. and Winters, L. C., 1965, Effects of cognitive difficulty and cognitive style upon eye contact in interviews, Paper read to the Eastern Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  40. Ferguson, N., 1976, Interruptions: speaker-switch nonfluency in spontaneous conversation, Edinburgh University, Department of Linguistics, Work in Progress, 9:1–19.Google Scholar
  41. Ferguson, N., 1977, Simultaneous speech, interruptions and dominance, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 16(4):295–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Fodor, J. A., Bever, T. G. and Garrett, M. F., 1974, “The Psychology of Language”, McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
  43. Freedle, R. and Lewis, M., 1977, Prelinguistic conversations, in: “Interaction, Conversation and the Development of Language”, M. Lewis and R. Freedle, eds., Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  44. Ginett, L. E. and Moran, L. J., 1964, Stability of vocabulary performance by schizophrenics. J.Consult.Psy., 28:178–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Goldman-Eisler, F., 1958a, Speech production and the predictability of words in context, Q.J.Exp.Psy., 10:96–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Goldman-Eisler, F., 1958b, The predictability of words in context and the length of pauses in speech, Lang.& Speech, 1:226–231.Google Scholar
  47. Goldman-Eisler, F., 1967, Sequential temporal patterns and cognitive processes in speech, Lang. & Speech, 10:122–132.Google Scholar
  48. Goldman-Eisler, F., 1968, “Psycholinguistics: Experiments in Spontaneous Speech”, Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
  49. Henderson, A., Goldman-Eisler, F. and Skarbeck, A., 1966, Sequential temporal patterns in spontaneous speech, Lang. & Speech, 9:207–216.Google Scholar
  50. Jaffe, J., Breskin, S., and Gerstman, L. J., 1972, Random generation of apparent speech rhythms, Lang. & Speech, 15:68–71.Google Scholar
  51. Jaffe, J. and Feldstein, S., 1970, “Rhythms of Dialogue”, Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  52. Jefferson, G., 1973, A case of precision timing in ordinary-conversation: overlapped tag-positioned address terms in closing sequences, Semiotica, 9(1):47–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Kasl, S. V. and Mahl, G. E., 1965, The relationship of disturbances and hesitations in spontaneous speech to anxiety, J.Personal.& Soc.Psy., 1:425–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kendon, A., 1967, Some functions of gaze direction in social interaction, Acta Psy., 26:22–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kendon, A., 1972, Some relationships between body motion and speech. An analysis of an example, in: “Studies in Dyadic Communication”, A. W. Siegman and B. Pope, eds., Pergamon, New York.Google Scholar
  56. Kendon, A., 1978, Looking in conversation and the regulation of turns at talk; a comment on the papers of G. Beattie and D. R. Rutter et al., Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 17:23–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Lalljee, M. G. and Cook, M., 1969, An experimental investigation of the function of filled pauses in speech, Lang. & Speech, 12:24–28.Google Scholar
  58. Lefcourt, H. M., Rotenberg, F., Buckspan, B. and Steffy, R. A., 1967, Visual interaction and performance of process and reactive schizophrenics as a function of examiner’s sex, J.Personal., 35:535–546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Maclay, H. and Osgood, C. E., 1959, Hesitation phenomena in spontaneous English speech, Word, 15:19–44.Google Scholar
  60. Marzillier, J. S. and Winter, K., 1978, Success and failure in social skills training: individual differences, Beh.Res.& Therapy, 16:67–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Matarazzo, J. D. and Saslow, G., 1961, Differences in interview interaction behaviour among normal and deviant groups, in: “Conformity and Deviation”, I. A. Berg and R. M. Bass, eds., Harper Row, New York.Google Scholar
  62. Mayo, C. and La France, M., 1978, On the acquisition of nonverbal communication: a review, Merrill-Palmer Quart., 24(4):213–228.Google Scholar
  63. Miller, G. A., 1963, Review of J. H. Greenberg, ed., “Universals of Language”, Contemp.Psy., 8:417–418.Google Scholar
  64. Moran, L. J., Gorham, D. R. and Holtzman, W. H., 1960, Vocabulary knowledge and usage of schizophrenic subjects: A six-year follow-up, J.Abnorm.& Soc.Psy., 61:246–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Riemer, M. D., 1949, The averted gaze, Psychiat.Quart., 23:108–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Riemer, M. D., 1955, Abnormalities of the gaze — a classification, Psychiat.Quart., 29:659–672.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Robbins, O., Devoe, S. and Wiener, M., 1978, Social patterns of turn-taking: Nonverbal regulators. J.Commun., 28(3):38–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rutter, D. R., 1973, Visual interaction in psychiatric patients: a review, Br.J.Psychiat., 123:193–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Rutter, D. R., 1977a, Speech patterning in recently admitted and chronic long-stay schizophrenic patients, Br.J.Soc. & Clin. Psy., 16(1):47–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Rutter, D. R., 1977b, Visual interaction and speech patterning in remitted and acute schizophrenic patients, Br.J.Soc. & Clin. Psy., 16(4):357–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Rutter, D. R., 1978, Visual interaction in schizophrenic patients: the timing of looks, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 17(3):281–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rutter, D. R. and Stephenson, G. M., 1972a, Visual interaction in a group of schizophrenic and depressive patients, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 11:57–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rutter, D. R. and Stephenson, G. M., 1972b, Visual interaction in a group of schizophrenic and depressive patients: a follow-up study, Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 11:410–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Rutter, D. R., Stephenson, G. M., Ayling K. and White, P. A., 1978, The timing of looks in dyadic conversation. Br.J.Soc. & Clin.Psy., 17:17–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A. and Jefferson, G. A., 1974, A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation, Language, 50:697–735.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Schuham, A. I., 1967, The double-bind hypothesis a decade later, Psy.Bull., 68:409–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Snow, C., 1977, The development of conversation between mothers and babies, J.Child Lang., 4:1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Stern, D. N., 1974, Mother and infant at play: the dyadic interaction involving facial, vocal and gaze behaviour, in: “The effect of the infant on its caregiver”, M. Lewis and L. A. Rosenblum, eds., Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  79. Stern, D. N., Jaffe, J., Beebe, B. and Bennett, S. L., 1975, Vocalizing in unison and in alternation: Two modes of communication within the mother-infant dyad. Ann.N.Y.Acad. Sci., 263:89–100.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Trevarthen, C., 1977, Descriptive analyses of infant communicative behaviour, in: “Studies in Mother-infant Interaction”, H. R. Schaffer, ed., Academic Press, London.Google Scholar
  81. Trower, P., Bryant, B. and Argyle, M., 1978, “Social Skills and Mental Health,” Methuen, London.Google Scholar
  82. Turner, J. le B., 1964, Schizophrenics as judges of vocal expressions of emotional meanings, in.: “The Communication of Emotional Meaning”, J.R. Davitz, ed., McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
  83. Vuchinich, S., 1977, Elements of cohesion between turns in ordinary conversation, Semiotica, 20(3/4): 229–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Welkowitz, J., Cariffe, G. and Feldstein, S., 1976, Conversational congruence as a criterion of socialization in children, Child Developt., 47:269–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wiemann, J. M. and Knapp, M. L., 1975, Turn-taking in conversation, J.Commun., 25:75–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Yngve, V. H., 1970, On getting a word inedgewise, “Papers from the sixth regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society”, Chicago Linguistic Society, Chicago.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geoffrey W. Beattie
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldEngland

Personalised recommendations