Short (th)reads about language, communication myths, and conversation analysis

Photo by Mark Timberlake on Unsplash

by Elizabeth Stokoe

This page collects together my Twitter threads on conversation analysis and communication. The pieces are organized into four sections:

  1. Myth-busting communication and conversation
  2. Work as part of Independent SAGE behaviour group on COVID messaging / communication.
  3. Transcripts of (mostly) politicians’ poor communication.
  4. Other tweets about communication.

Google Scholar has a list of all my academic publications; I store most other science communication, videos, talks, interviews, on my CARM website, and there’s more here on Medium. I’ll update this page when there is more to add.

1. Myth-busting communication and conversation

How are you?

‘How are you’ “are the three most useless words in the world of communication.” This compelling (but wrong/daft) assertion is the kind of thing people think they know about talk but don’t. It’s one of many communication myths that we should bust. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1365025146122215427/photo/1

Stop building rapport

‘Build rapport’ is at the heart of #communication skills training and #CX It’s obviously good to have good conversations, but what does ‘building rapport’ look like ‘in the wild’ — and does it ‘work’? Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1397615205627146245

‘Open’ and ‘closed’ questions

“How do open-ended questions improve interpersonal communication?” TL;DR: They do not. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1365025146122215427

How the ‘useless’ words of ‘small talk’ saves lives.

In a 999 domestic violence call, the caller gets help without making a request Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1379494782788046854

Is silence golden?

A thread comparing #SocialScience methods for studying interaction — real conversation in the wild vs experimentally-produced in the lab. Two papers on #negotiation, with overlap in headline finding, but very different in all other ways. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1382074734427389952

Are ‘standardized’ questions actually delivered in as ‘standardized’?

How we ask questions is important. Some questions are *standardized* (e.g., surveys, scripts, instructions) and require reading out loud, word for word. In business, research, law, medicine, etc., do people “just read them out”? TL;DR: No. And there are consequences. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1394373573066756103

A thread on the ‘quality’ of F2F vs online interaction

While ‘communication is key’, what we know about communication, inc. online, often rests on stereotypes or anecdata. So when it comes to the ‘quality’ of online interaction, what is fact and what is communication myth Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1293282328127692800

Image: UnDraw

Do conversations end when people want them to?

According to @a_m_mastroianni, most do not. My review in @natureNV and a thread comparing laboratory methods to conversation analysis #EMCA (real talk ‘in the wild’) for researching conversation. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1387471050653503489

How many interviews / cases / responses are needed in qualitative research?

In addition to @drvicclarke’s brilliant thread about ‘how many’ interviews in qualitative research, here’s a short thread about quantification from the perspective of conversation analysis. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1398192936681103362

On quantitative versus qualitative, ‘hard’ versus ‘soft’ research methods.

Caricaturing others’ research methods is as old as the hills but the response to @chrischirp reproduces the caricature even as it mitigates the original tweet Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1413782285774635009

Questions and answers in news interviews

#EMCA research shows us that whatever appears in the ‘answer’ slot in a conversation can be assessed (in the moment and post-hoc) for how it addresses the initiating ‘question’. News interviews are full of examples. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1417815943942709248

Designing questions for different categories (personas, segments) in #CxD

How do people design what they say for presumed #personas and customer #segments in real conversations? We @MFlinkfeldt @S_Parslow analysed the moment-to-moment design of questions and categorization of callers on the telephone. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1432783007899865094

One thing that strikes me about pandemic-generated discussion (and assertion) about online versus in-person #communication is that it skates over what we still actually do on the telephone (i.e., audio only, no video). Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1443334697921261569

2. Work on COVID messaging / communication including as part of Independent SAGE behaviour group

Independent SAGE Report 46: The ‘Following the Science’ Timeline: What SAGE and Independent SAGE advised as key behavioural mitigations versus what the Westminster Government did January 2020 — July 2021

Our ‘Following the Science’ Timeline charts the main behavioural science recommendations from SAGE & Indie SAGE about the measures needed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 alongside what the Westminster Government implemented and when. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1428714409778634754

‘Following the Science’ timeline

Independent SAGE Report 22: UK Government Messaging on COVID-19: Five principles and recommendations for a communication reset

From Stay Home to Stay Alert, UK government messaging has been much discussed during the #COVID19 pandemic. #IndieSAGE has analysed its effects (March-Oct 2020) and makes recommendations for a communication reset. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1328403950693965827

UK Government public health messaging

Regarding the UK gov’s new Covid campaign (“Act like you’ve got the virus”), I was asked on @SkyNews yesterday if “there is a problem with compliance now in terms of people adhering … is the message is clear enough?” Preparing took me down messaging rabbit holes. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1348375534263300096

#COVID19 and the discourse of ‘anxiety’

People are ‘returning’ or ‘going back’ to work and good employers are putting safety measures in place. In the mix, we’re witnessing the division of people into categories: ‘comfortable’, ‘(ir)rational’, ‘reluctant’, ‘anxious’. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1299122381345169409

The emergence of social distancing

Anyone else noticing this from morning runs? 1) Clocking other runners/walkers from a distance, followed by collaborative social-distancing mutual swerve and a “hello” versus 2) Being the sole swerver for the seemingly oblivious. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1244245210332368896

Online teaching and learning during COVID-19

Why does @IndependentSage recommend maximizing remote learning at #Universities from the START of term? Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1304480058908839936

Online teaching and learning during COVID-19

The minutes of SAGE on 21.9.20 align with @IndependentSage’s key recommendations from a month earlier about maximizing in-person teaching to reverse the rise in cases. Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1315762196283088896

Student travel window

Here’s Michelle Donelan on #r4today this morning describing the DfE’s new guidance for a ‘student travel window’ (and testing at some #universities) at the end of term, following advice from SAGE “MONTHS ago.” https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1326497629073715201

3. Transcripts of (mostly) politicians’ poor communication.

The UK Prime Minister ‘answers’ a yes/no question

Johnson’s full response to Andrew from Wakefield’s yes/no question: “Do you have any plans to prioritize #university students so that they too are fully vaccinated by the time they go off to uni?” https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1404554065057570818

Build back in a more ‘feminine’ way

What is that hand gesture and smirk?! Johnson: “Building back more (0.4) equal.=’nd uh: how shall I- more- i- in- uh- uh: a more £gender neutral ‘nd (0.5) .h p’haps (a/like-) more feminine ((hand gesture)) way.£ (1.2) How ‘bout that.” https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1403621216636837893

Black Lives Matter — Patel

Patel: So t’the QUiet law-abidin’ m:inori- majority. (0.4) Who are appalled by this violence, The ‘trouble source’ — ‘minority’ — is almost completely produced before initiating repair to produce ‘majority’. https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1270074862883700736

Black Lives Matter — Hancock

Another excruciating interview with #Hancock. Not sure it’s therapeutic to transcribe his gaps, pauses, restarts, repairs, etc. second-by-second, but here they are. The answer to @SophyRidgeSky’s question is at line 03. https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1269598250853634055

“I don’t care a toss, love”

Here’s @Marthakearney interviewing @GeoffreyBoycott on @BBCRadio4 You don’t need to know much about #EMCA to spot the gaps, interruption, and, um, content, love.

“Does (Long Covid) concern you?”

Dingwall’s response to Urban’s yes/no question about #LongCovid on #Newsnight “Does [several million young people getting the virus] concern you?” “Well…” #EMCA #TranscribeIt #Communication #CountLongCovid Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1417267643476811783

Johnson & Raab at the #Afghanistan crisis centre

BJ-initiated elbow greeting but no mask is the embodiment of government mixed #messaging — “You all good” designed for “no problem” reply; BJ continually interrupts + gazes away from recipients towards camera — etc. #EMCA Thread here: https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1432085358506909701

4. Other tweets about communication

On Sky News with new #IndieSAGE colleague Prof Linda Bauld & Anna Mathur — I focused on online interaction, missing 3D life, and, of course, the chaotic, inconsistent, badly-timed, trust-reducing, stress-inducing, cumulatively imprecise messaging of the UK government. https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1346757501996453888/photo/1

As a conversation analyst I’ve studied 1000s of interactions in many settings, so I’m hard to shock, but Hancock’s performance in this interview is beyond appalling. His smile at 20 seconds into the clip echoes Patel’s in the press briefing yesterday. https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1349467221744103424

Are the rules clear/tough enough? By focusing on individual compliance, Patel doesn’t say that the rules mean many CANNOT #StayHome (insufficient furlough, support to isolate, etc.) but produces laughed-and-smiled-through responses about how clear the rules are. https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1349092162022109187

Is it bad to feel an urge to reject a request to review a communication paper from a communication journal cos of the communication in the email? A spam-esque greeting “Dear Stokoe” followed by the resistance-anticipatory “If you are WILLING to review this manuscript” https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1366856123865792512

Another excruciating interaction involving multiple non-answers/unclear responses — accompanied by laughs/smiles — from MPs. Much to observe in this clip, but, like Hancock and Patel, watch for the smile at 23s from Ford. Her hands are doing a lot of work too. https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1350060164892794880

Reassuring to see 1st dose stats but less so to read @SkyNews quoting Raab “refusing to guarantee that everyone will get their 2nd dose within 12 weeks.” Many also noting the language — adults to be “offered” the 1st dose. Stress-inducing, trust-reducing #communication. https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1350858288225787904

COMMUNICATION 101 Self-isolating has always meant #StayHome & red/yellow colours are associated with the first UK government message. So it’s inconsistent (and unnecessary) to use ‘Alert’ in this new messaging (which also depicts … a home) #MixedMessaging https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1334205172944408580

Leaking leads to frustration but also CREATES a limbo of fuzziness and mixed messaging — in this case between the tiers system and whatever new rules were coming on 5.11 — adding to problems caused by badly timed messages from unclear sources that reduce trust in UK government. https://twitter.com/LizStokoe/status/1330792903946498048

Professor of Social Interaction at Loughborough University, specializes in conversation analysis, communication training, & science communication.