Friday, December 14, 2007

Communicating to Survive

Since it is likely that I will be unable to maintain this blog until the first of February, I need to review what Communicating to Survive is about. It is enormously simple from one point of view and enormously complicated from another point of view.

First, the simple view: we all have certain goals and through communications we can achieve those goals. The goals are:

1) to live with the person of our choice.
2) to live in the community of our choice,
3) to work at the job of our choice,
4) to work at the level of our choice and
5) to work at the pay of our choice.

As with all goals, depending on a wide range of variables, we may achieve them with ease or with great difficulty. This discussion is the beginning of a trip through some ideas that should make achieving these goals more likely.

From the complicated point of view, this process will require our attention for the remainder of our lives. To not pay attention to the details of effective communication will slow or even stop the process toward our goals.

Here are some basic assumptions that will be discussed.

1) Every person is unique if for no other reason than the genes that make us come together in a unique fashion constructing a unique body. For example, two people in the same family can take a medication and have different results. You might reason that since they are from the same family their reaction should have been the same. But experience indicates that members of the same family have different bodies and minds depending on what the genes from mom and dad accomplish within our body. One more example, you study hard and your brother or sister spends half the time and has a higher GPA.

2) Our experiences in life are different. One of the main reasons for that is we are wrapped in our skin and view the world from that point of view. Even when we travel together we are seeing the world from a slightly different point of view. That doesn’t even consider that fact that your eyes and ears work better than mine since your genes built them differently from mine. But, I make take pride that I’m stronger than you are.

3) We are limited on channels of communication. We might be able to use reflected light, sound waves and touch, but again our bodies are different and we can’t be certain that what we have experienced and now named will be understood the same way by the other person. I wear glasses and you don’t need to. I can eat anything and intend to and not put on weight. You pass by a donut shop and gain 5 pounds. Your view and mine about food is bound to be different. I love blue cheese and you can’t stand it. Again our genes have an impact and now another consideration—culture. What I have gotten out of my cultural exposure is different.

4) One of the best tools for communication is the creation of common ground. Doing things and thinking things together gives us additional insights into one another. That is not the same as saying that we agree on everything. The more time (a communication device) we spend together the easier it is for us to predict the others behavior. The middle American culture makes every effort to limit the amount of time we spend together doing the same interactive things. Work, entertainment, other folk and computers to name a few, tend to keep us from spending time with one another.

Did I mention that the second view point is much more complicated? It is what Communicating to Survive will be discussing.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Now, Is That Ethical?

That’s a question that should be on our mind all the time. Within the context of speech presentation it is very important. Since all speech is limited to time available, you must take into consideration what your purpose is and how best to achieve it given the audience you are addressing.

Somewhat easier in the case of the informational presentation: what need you say in providing adequate information to allow the listener(s) to understand? Your purpose is to instruct, you are a teacher and when you are finished your “students” will have acquired information that they can understand and use. With this type of presentation is the sharing of information. (Keep in mind that all information has a biasing quality.)

In the case of persuasive presentation there are additional concerns such as, because of time constraints am I favoring (leaning toward coercion) one side of this issue over the other? Is the presentation fair and balanced? This can be a problem. When you “know you are right” and you believe that it is in the best interests of your audience to agree with you, there will be a temptation to lean toward coercion. Here’s the problem: in the long run you want to be effective so you have already adopted the concept of always telling the truth. (Once spotted lying the listener will always be suspicious.) Once caught coercing (unethically attempting to control others behavior) listeners will always be suspicious. In a lifetime, it is not worth the risk to coerce.

Back to the time available when using the persuasive presentation: you must be fair and balanced to the best of your abilities in order to maintain your effectiveness. Since you feel this constraint you must take great care in the selection and presentation of all materials. You never can mention, let alone discuss all of the data that can be part of your presentation—there isn’t enough time.

To better understand the problem consider what has happened to the current administration in Washington DC over the last few years. They have moved from a position that was very close to “If you say so, it must be true,” to “Didn’t you tell us that Iraq had WMD and it turned out that they didn’t?”

Damaged credibility is difficult (impossible) to repair. Build your credibility carefully over the years and do nothing to damage it. Remain fair and balance in all presentations.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Media Today

Traditionally we have viewed the things that media does for us as follows:

1) Surveillance,

2) Correlation,

3) Cultural Transmission, and

4) Entertainment.

Surveillance is something that media has done better or worse over the years. Right now it seems to be doing it a little worse than it used to do it. As accountants have gained increasing control over the media we have seen that there really isn’t as much demand for surveillance as you might think. In stead, there is more profit in other things such as entertainment. When profits become the goal why would you provide news, information and interpretation to an audience that seems to prefer entertainment?

Correlation helps media consumers understand the steady stream of data that is coming at them. Isn’t it a bit too much like going to school? Wasn’t the goal to get and education and then get on with life? Why do we need all these people telling us what the news and information means? Well, the biggest reason is that we don’t have the time to find out for ourselves and the world is constantly changing as are we. With all this change we need all the help we can get just trying to keep up with the world outside our everyday lives.

Cultural transmission is one of the significant tasks of media. But, when you’re dealing with an audience that doesn’t really want to be educated in every area possible then entertainment is going to win. And after all we are being socialized through the entertainment we choose to spend our time with. Put another way, why spend your time learning more about your own culture when as far as you are concerned you already know enough. And what is the advantage of knowing all about somebody else’s culture anyway?

Entertainment is the biggest winner in this short list above. We all love entertainment and go our of our way to get as much as we have time and money for. If you’re going to try to educate me, please make it as entertaining as possible. As a nation we seem to be saying if I am warm, comfortable and have plenty of food and sufficient entertainment I really don’t care what is going on around me. Bread and circuses is a phrase which has though history been used to describe either governments or their citizenry when it appeared that human beings appeared to abandon more significant goals. It could be that to a large extent that applies to us now.


Joseph Conrad is credited with saying “Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.” Short quotations often make very complicated and difficult tasks seem “easy” or “simple.” When it comes to persuasion there is very little about it that is easy. It takes broad based understanding of people; focus on the processes that are used by those people to arrive at conclusions. Then you mix in your ethical understanding so that long-term good results from your persuasion.

Start with “the right word.” This implies an understanding of the people you are addressing which allows you to come very close to how they mean about that “right word.” For example, in the news recently we have heard about a teacher that let “her class of 7-year-olds name a teddy bear Muhammad. The teacher is back in England now, but she experienced first hand how people might react to a lack of understanding of public reaction to one word. Of course, it isn’t only the word.

“The right accent” is also part of their reaction. They might even be able to allow their children to name a teddy bear Muhammad within the context of their own home. But, to have someone that carries the context of a visiting professor from England allow, read encourage, their children to use Muhammad in any way might lead to a negative reaction.

In simpler terms, you might call you significant other “Funny Face” with only a positive reaction. But, if I tried to refer to your significant other as Funny Face you might very well slash my tires.

Persuasion may seem like a fairly straight forward and uncomplicated subject when it is viewed casually and from the point of view of a single sentence, but when it comes right down to it, persuasion is a difficult task and deserves a great deal of our attention.