Theses Doctoral

Managing Difficult Conversations

Sun, Katherine Qianwen

The present thesis examines how people manage difficult conversations in daily life through online surveys, live interaction studies, field studies, text analysis methods, topic models, and multilevel linear regression models.

The thesis consists of three chapters. Chapter 1 establishes a process model of conversation avoidance, investigating people’s motivations, emotions, and behaviors when they are put into an unwanted conversation. I find that when people are concerned about their privacy, they are more likely to feel anxious and to stay quiet in the conversation. At the same time, when people are concerned about creating a conflict, they are more likely to feel angry and to leave the conversation.

Chapter 2 evaluates the effectiveness of delaying conversations as an avoidance strategy. I find that although people prefer their partners to confess to them immediately after the events happened, people often delay their confessions. The waiting time is not associated with positive outcomes of the conversation or how their conversation partner reacts.

Chapter 3 investigate a socio-ecological factor that predicts conversation avoidance and conversation seeking behaviors using the concept of relational mobility. I find that individuals with the ability to choose who they want to affiliate with are less concerned about their privacy or creating a conflict in a conversation. However, these individuals tend to have shallow conversations. Individuals with the ability to meet many new people tend to have deep conversations.

Overall, this dissertation contributes to our understanding of how people handle difficult conversations in daily lives.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Slepian, Michael
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 3, 2023