Levels of conversation

I have always been interested in many aspects of psychology and any form of self-analysis gets my attention. The various methodologies whereby one’s “personality type” can be assessed are always fascinating. A particular area of interest for me is communication; that never seems to be what it appears. Having familiarized my self with Venus and Mars, along with ideas of introverts vs extraverts, I have often wondered how we can characterize everyday conversation.

Recently, somebody told me about the “Five levels of conversation” …

The concept is quite simple. At any one moment, in any particular conversation, the discourse is at one of 5 levels:

  1. Swapping greetings
  2. Giving information
  3. Exchanging experiences/details
  4. Sharing feelings
  5. Baring your soul

As the conversation progresses, it may advance from one level to a higher one. It is hard to imagine situations where it would move in the opposite direction, but I guess going from 5 to 4 or 4 to 3 might happen. There is a general feeling that taking a conversation to a higher level is beneficial and worthwhile, but obviously this only makes sense when it is appropriate – initiating a discussion about your emotional life with a bus ticket inspector is never going to end well.

For the most part, there is a maximum level of conversation to which you would feel comfortable with any given individual. For the mythical bus ticket inspector, it would be 1 or 2; for your spouse it would be at least 4. This doesn’t mean that you converse at the maximum level with each person on every occasion. Baring your soul uses a lot of emotional energy; save this for special occasions.

It might seem logical to expect that, the better a friend a specific individual is, the higher your maximum conversation level will be. Even though this is commonly the case, there are exceptions. There may be people in your life, whose acquaintanceship you really value, but with whom you never get beyond level 3. Alternatively, you might enter into conversation with a fellow passenger on a long flight and reach level 4 or even 5 in the full knowledge that you will never see them again.

I have a feeling that this technique may be a useful tool in considering one’s relationships and analyzing where you stand with someone and how you might like things to go.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2018/01/18/levels-of-conversation/