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Interactive Dialogue or Serial Monologue: The Influence of Group Size on conversation

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 27 April 2015

 


Title

Interactive Dialogue or Serial Monologue: The Influence of Group Size on conversation
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 178
Posted DateMonday 27 April 2015 13:34 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen

Over the years, in running my Knowledge Cafes, I have discovered through trial and error and careful observation that the ideal size of a group for interactive conversation is four people. If not four, then five is OK but three is better.

Anything more than five and the conversation does not work so well: one or two people tend to dominate; the conversation breaks into two, even three; frequently one person is totally cut out of the interaction and there is little energy in the group.

This research paper confirms my observations.

Current communication models draw a broad distinction between communication as dialogue and communication as monologue. The two kinds of models have different implications for who influences whom in a group discussion.

The experiments reported in this paper show that in small, 5-person groups, the communication is like dialogue and members are influenced most by those with whom they interact in the discussion.

However, in large, 10-person groups, the communication is like monologue and members are influenced most by the dominant speaker.

The difference in mode of communication is explained in terms of how speakers in the two sizes of groups design their utterances for different audiences.


So in those workshops and conferences where people are sat in groups of 8 at large round tables (often the only tables available in hotel conference centres) or long, narrow tables, no real conversation takes place!

To have a good conversation you need to be in touching distance of each other and each person in the group needs to be equi-distant.

These two settings are ideal:





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