Structure

Different types of conversations have different characteristics.

Conversation Types

The following conversation types describe the ways we communicate with one another. Knowing the type of conversation you plan to have with your user will help you craft dialogue that lends to desirable experiences for your users.

Ordinary

The kind of conversation you have with family, friends and even strangers. Ordinary conversations consist of the broadest range of activities from delivering news to checking up to seeking help or advice to learning to small talk and much more. Sometimes the purpose of ordinary conversation is just simply to open a social connection with another person for its own sake. In conversation analytic theory, ordinary conversation is considered the least constrained type of conversation from which other types are optimized for particular purposes.

Service

The kind of conversation you have with a customer service or other organizational representative. The roles are fixed: One person, such as a customer, member or citizen, requests service; the other person, usually a stranger, provides services on behalf of an organization. Services may consist simply of answering inquiries or taking actions or guiding the other through troubleshooting. Service conversations have distinctive openings. Service providers typically do a greeting, self-identify, identify the organization and offer service, rushing through the transitions, so that the service seeker’s first turn can be their request. Other times such openings may include a series of questions for verifying the service seeker’s identity.

Teaching

The kind of conversation you have with in a classroom or with a tutor. One person (or more) seeks knowledge; the other presents knowledge and tests understanding. In teaching conversations, teachers routinely ask the student questions to which they already know the answers. They may withhold the answers in an attempt to elicit the correct answers from the student. Whereas correcting other people is discouraged in most other kinds of conversations for the sake of politeness, it is required in the teaching conversation.

Counseling

The kind of conversation you have with a therapist, counselor or advisor. One person seeks advice; the other listens and provides advice. The counselee may report a problem of a personal nature or a long-term goal and seek advice on how to manage it, rather than requesting that the other person manage it directly. The counselor tends to withhold judgment and let the counselee lead the conversation without interrupting or changing the topic.

Other

There are of course many other recognizable types of conversations. When building a conversational user experience, identify what type of conversation you want to create and then think about, or examine, how people talk in other instances of that type. For example, if you’re building a virtual agent that recommends travel destinations, model your conversation flow on how human travel agents or customer service representatives speak.

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