English Language


Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Role of Turn-Taking in Conversation: The Critical Structure and Guidelines

In every conversation, it is essential for both speakers and listeners to follow three vital components of turn-taking to ensure a smooth and productive interaction. These components facilitate equal participation and flow in the conversation, allowing everyone to have the opportunity to contribute.

The Turn-Taking Component

The main content of the turn can be found in the turn-taking component, which is made up of turn-construction units, or segments of speech. When this component reaches a transition-relevant point, it signals the next speaker to take their turn.

The Turn Allocation Component

The turn allocation component involves techniques used to appoint the next speaker. There are two techniques that can be used: the current speaker chooses the next speaker, or the next speaker selects themselves. These techniques follow the rules of turn-taking, which aim to minimize pauses and overlaps for a seamless transition between speakers.

The Rules of Turn-Taking

When a transition-relevant point is reached, there are three possible outcomes: the current speaker appoints the next speaker, a listener self-selects, or no one is selected. These rules are in place to maintain two essential elements of a conversation - equal participation and seamless flow.

The Informal Indicators of Turn-Taking

In addition to the structured components of turn-taking, there are also informal indicators that help propel the conversation forward. These include adjacency pairs, intonation, gestures, and gaze direction.

Adjacency Pairs

A pair of related utterances by different speakers, where the second is a response to the first, is known as an adjacency pair. This can take the form of a question and answer, a compliment and thanks, an accusation and admission/denial, or a request and acceptance/refusal.


Changes in intonation can also signal a change in turn. A dip in pitch or volume from the current speaker often indicates that they are finished speaking and it is time for the next speaker to take their turn.


Non-verbal cues, like gestures, can also indicate a change in turn. A hand wave, for example, can express inquiry and signal the next speaker.

Gaze Direction

The direction of a person's gaze can also be a signal for turn-taking. While speaking, a person's eyes will typically be cast downwards, and while listening, their eyes will be cast upwards. A speaker reaching a transition-relevant point may start to look up more frequently and finish their turn with a steady gaze, signaling to the next speaker to begin.

Disruptions in Turn-Taking

Although turn-taking is a natural part of conversation, there are also disruptions that can occur, such as interruption, overlaps, and gaps. It is important to avoid these disruptions to maintain a pleasant and engaging conversation.


Interrupting happens when a listener cuts in before the current speaker has finished talking, forcefully appointing themselves as the next speaker.


An overlap occurs when two or more speakers talk at the same time, causing confusion and disruption in the conversation.


A gap is a silence at the end of a turn and can indicate a lack of engagement or interest in the conversation.


In order for a conversation to be successful, turn-taking must be structured and follow certain rules. By understanding the components of turn-taking and being aware of informal indicators, we can ensure that conversations flow smoothly and everyone has the opportunity to contribute. It is also important to avoid disruptions, such as interruptions and overlaps, in order to maintain a pleasant and engaging conversation for all parties involved.

The Importance of Smooth Turn-Taking in Conversation

In order for conversations to flow smoothly, it is crucial to avoid interruptions, overlaps, and gaps.

What Exactly is Turn-Taking?

Turn-taking is a vital component of the structure of conversations. It involves actively listening to the speaker and then taking turns speaking as the conversation progresses.

An Example of Turn-Taking:

Person A starts off by sharing how they made a cake that turned out to be a hit with their family. Person B responds by showing pride in their accomplishment. Person A then seamlessly transitions to asking about Person B's weekend plans.

Person B responds by saying their weekend wasn't as exciting as Person A's but they still enjoyed a lovely autumn day by the river. This back-and-forth exchange is an example of smooth turn-taking in conversation.

Disruptions to Turn-Taking:

Turn-taking can be disrupted by interruptions, overlaps, and gaps. These interruptions can disrupt the natural flow of conversation and hinder understanding between speakers.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime