in Social Dynamics

A Fundamental Way To Analyze a Conversation’s Quality

Yesterday I was at my good friend Mike’s place with some friends, grilling food and getting to know some people that I hadn’t had the chance to talk to much. After the party winded down, while sipping on an “Ultimate Hazelnut” coffee that I would call more “Modest” than “Ultimate,” Mike and I got into some heavy discussion on what makes a great conversation.  We tend to break things down that most people wouldn’t, which can be good and bad.

Breaking down conversation? Helpful. Our long conversation about exactly what qualities make a “rad girl?” Not so productive.

We ended up coming up with a rough way to quantify the quality of a conversation.

The impetus behind this conversation was composed of two things:

  1. The value we place on good conversation
  2. Our experiences in the dating world over the past few months

There had to be a way to judge the quality of the conversation without being clouded by the other factors that go into attractiveness (looks, athleticism, style, intellect, etc).  Let’s be honest – it’s not hard to get distracted by other factors and conveniently forget that the conversation was less than stellar.

Here is what we came up with. There are 4 main metrics, ranging from most to least important as well as a few bonus metrics.

Warning: This is super-nerdy.

Unique Conversation Capacity (UCC)

Your UCC is the most important metric. How capable are both of you at creating a conversation that is truly unique? One that plays off of both of your histories, talents, strengths, and weaknesses, as well as the shared history between the two of you? We’ve both been on dates where answers seemed predictable and the entire conversation could have been had by two other people – which isn’t what we’re looking for, and I’d hope not what you’re looking for either.

Measurement: A high UCC demonstrates the overall ability to craft a conversation that is truly unique. A low UCC means that the conversation skimmed the surface and doesn’t stick in your brain as memorable.

Topic Range (Low to High)

Conversations are made up of topics. Whether you’re having a conversation about one main topic and its various sub-topics, or you’re conversing about a wide range of topics (typical in the first date realm), topics are the bedrock of conversation.

Topics can range from low depth to high depth. On the lowest end you have chatting about something like the recent weather or local events. On the highest end you have talking about the arts, your core values, and the deeper experiences in your life. Notice how I used ‘chatting’ for the low-depth topics – it’s surface level.

MeasurementA person’s range is their ability to talk across the full range of depth – if they can handle themselves in small talk all the way through to the deeper, more insightful realms of conversation.

Exchanges Per Topic (EPT)

Within a topic, there is a back and forth – the natural flow of conversation. This can vary based on who brought up or transitioned to the topic at hand – people have different levels of knowledge about different things, so sometimes it’s natural for there to be few exchanges. If you’re sharing your gardening expertise with someone, it’s normal for there to be fewer exchanges as you’re sharing your knowledge and they’re taking the more passive role.

However, for the most part the ideal exchanges per topic are very high, indicating high levels of engagement between the two of you and a really good ‘ping pong’ effect.

Measurement: How many times did the conversation bounce back and forth during the topic? Was it unequal or balanced? If it was unequal, was it because one person was sharing more, or due to shyness or lack of confidence?

Exchange Chunks

Exchanges within a topic can be grouped into chunks, like this:

Topic: Travel

You: Initiate and talk about trip to Brazil

5 exchanges

Them: Talk about their experience traveling in Europe post graduation

7 exchanges

You: Share where you would like to travel next

6 exchanges

This goes on and on until someone changes the topic.

Who Was The Driver?

In the example above you have the topic of travel with three exchange chunks, two of which you drove. That means you were the ‘driver’ of 66% of that topic’s conversation – you started more of the exchange chunks.

Extrapolating that out to the entirety of the conversation, if you sum up the exchange chunks that you drove over the course of the whole conversation, you’ll get a pretty good picture of who had ‘the upper hand’ in the conversation and was playing the leading role.

Putting it all Together

Now that we have the four metrics, let’s take a look at the following description:

I went out on a date with a girl, we’ll call her Jane. We got to know each other, talked about what we did for work, where we grew up, and then went a little deeper into some goals that we have and values we believe in. For the most part it was pretty balanced – in fact, she even picked up the conversation when I intentionally let it die. We talked for two hours straight while playing pool over a bunch of different topics. I feel like I got to know her pretty well, but I would say it was an above average date, not a home run.

Putting that description into our system, I might say something like this:

Jane had a medium-high Unique Conversation Capacity and was able to talk through the full range of topic depth. The exchanges per topic were high and we both drove the conversation at a fairly equal rate.

Going full nerd you have:

Medium high UCC with full range. EPT high, 50/50 drivers.