Patterns In Conversations

By Chris Chittenden

"The character of a man is known from his conversations."

... Menander (342 BC - 292 BC)

As human beings, we spend our days in conversation. We have conversations with others. We have conversations with ourselves. We spend our life living in a sea of language and just like a fish in water, we do not see that we do so.

One of the great innovations developed by those who have created the ontological approach to coaching, was to understand that conversation is not random. One of my proudest and most recent achievements has been to simply and clearly structure the conversational pattern. This is a dramatic shift from what we were doing two years ago, when we were often challenged to explain how conversations dealt with our issues in life. In refining the conversational pattern, we have come to the conclusion that human beings have three very distinct types of conversation:

  1. Descriptive Conversations - those which describe the world in which we live;
  2. Speculative Conversations - those which allow us to create a new world; and
  3. Action Conversations - those which provide for the coordination of action with other people.

Each of these conversations takes a distinct form and serves a specific purpose. In other words, we do not have to just randomly engage in conversation. By understanding the fundamental conversational pattern, we can better design the world we want for ourselves and take action to achieve it. This is not to say we cannot achieve what we want without understanding this pattern. Clearly we all achieve many things we want in life. However, we believe an understanding of the conversational pattern and the subtleties that it holds can provide people with insights to deal more effectively with others such that they get what they want and enhance their relationships at the same time.

From a coaching perspective, understanding the basic conversational pattern is useful in two ways. Firstly, the conversational pattern underpins the Coach's conversational skills and allows them to move their client through to effective action.

Secondly, many coaching interventions involve people who are blind to missing conversations needed to achieve what they want in life. An Ontological Coach, skilled in the conversational pattern, can identify the missing conversations and provide the platform for their client to work out what they can do to move themselves forward in life. Furthermore, the patterns of people's conversations also provide a window into person's way of being. For example, a Coach can develop interpretations about someone based on their preference for descriptive and speculative conversations that only rarely move to action conversations. What has them avoid action?

Although the conversational pattern is fundamental to good coaching, its scope for use is much broader than that. It is really about human social life and the human condition. People can utilise understanding and skill with this pattern to achieve more in all aspects of life.

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© 2004 Chris Chittenden