Archive for January, 2011


It’s Prom Night For All Of Us In This Global Society

In a break from tradition at the 2011 State of the Union when members of both political parties were sitting together,  Democratic Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar said that it was like prom night to be seated  next to Republican Senator Jeff Session from Alabama. 

Do you remember your prom night?  The matching of the clothing, the request for a wrist or pin-on corsage and worst of all: the awkward forced photo session at your home.  Yes, prom is a study in awkwardness. 

But so is most of communication, and especially cross-cultural communication.  When the president noted in his speech that “American Muslims are part of our American family” I was reminded that, yes, indeed, they are and so are the many other ethnic groups that make up our great country.  In fact, the term “minority” is making less sense as the years go by.  In California, New Mexico and dozens of large cities, Caucasion Americans make up less than half of the population. 

Learning to communicate well across cutures in not a luxury, it is an imperative.  Here are a few tips we should keep in mind:

*  Avoid assumptions.  Don’t assume that others will act the same way you do.

* Avoid judgements.   When people act differently, don’t jump to the conclusion that they are in error.

* Acknowledge distinctions.  Don’t ignore differences, instead try to learn about them.

It is also wise to become aware of your own biases, and exercise tolerance, flexibility and respect. 

For example, I have a “no hat” policy in speech class (some hats cover a speaker’s face, and thus reduce the ability to communicate well nonverbally), but students who are Sikh wear a head covering, such as a turban to show they loyal to their guru.  I would not ask a person who is wearing a headcovering for religious reasons to remove it. 

So, maybe the Democratic and Republican senators felt as though they were at prom night.  Truth is, to get through the “global dance” successfully, we are all going to the prom. 

PS:  I like daisies in my corsages.


A major shift in organizational communication

At Penn State Lehigh Valley, I usually teach Communication Arts and Sciences 100, Effective Speech, but this semester I am teaching a course I only teach occasionally, Communication 352, Organizational Communication.  It has been at least three years since I taught the course and I am struck by one major change in communication in organizations in that brief time.  I should have figured it out, afterall, I am a Facebook user, a Tweeter and well, you are reading it now:  I blog.  And yesterday when I was at Lehigh Valley Mall with my daughter I was offered a free belt at the store Charlotte Russe just for “liking” the company on Facebook. 

That the nature of organizational communication has changed so fundamentally in such a short time is notable.  In fact, it is downright bloggable!

Of course one major  tenet of organization  has not changed a bit.  It was as true when the course started at Penn State decades ago as it is now:  Communication skills are essential to our success in the workplace. Employers are frustrated by the poor communication skills of many employees, so communicating well gives you a significant advantage.

Now, however, technology influences virtually every aspect of business communication today. And communication is more interactive than ever. To benefit from this technology, however, you need to have at least a basic level of skills. If your level of technical expertise doesn’t keep up with that of your colleagues and coworkers, the imbalance can put you at a disadvantage, jeopardize your contribution to your organization and complicate the communication process.

 Today’s businesses rely heavily on technology to facilitate the communication process.  Even my children’s former orthodontist in on Facebook! And why not?  It is a fun, inexpensive and pervasive way to perpetuate his brand.  In short, to stay fresh and competitive, all organizations need to jump on the technology train.

However, one caution:   E-mail, IM, Twitter, Facebook, and other technologies are key parts of what has been called the “information technology paradox,” in which information tools can waste as much time as they save.  It’s too easy to send too many messages and to subscribe to too many blogs and other information sources.

  • The flood of messages from an expanding array of electronic sources can significantly affect employees’ abilities to focus on their work.
  • Personal use of technological tools can reduce productivity.

 Users need to recognize the limitations of technology and remember the benefits of face-to-face communication.

 Communication technology has three potential shortcomings that can and do hamper communication. First, technologies such as e-mail and instant messaging are unable to convey the full richness of human communication, particularly nonverbal signals. For instance, e-mail messages can come across as blunt or overly harsh simply because the medium lacks a practical and effective way to convey emotional nuances. Second, technology can’t replace human planning and oversight. Spellcheckers that correct spelling but “approve” poor word choices or nonsensical phrases are a common example of this flaw. Third, even the best technologies are rarely 100 percent reliable, and if people come to depend on technological channels too heavily, they can be cut off from one another whenever these systems fail.

  A lack of shared experience between the sender and receiver increases the odds of communication failure because the decoding of incoming messages depends heavily on perception, and perception is shaped by experience. In other words, people with different life experiences tend to view the world in different ways, and these differing perceptions will naturally affect the meanings that these people extract from messages they receive.

 To embrace the new technologies to the fullest, communicators need to recognize the limitations of  technology, carefully monitor the time spent on the new technologies and consider the impact of the messages to the vast audiences the messages reach. 

If we do these things, we are likely to enjoy the impact and fun of Internet communication and add to our organization with a consistent effort to communicate with all the available means of persuasion!


In 2011 and Beyond: Each One, Teach One!

 In a recent CNN profile of Senator Barbara Mikulski, she noted that when she came to the senate 24 years ago, she realized that with each new woman elected to the Senate she had a new opportunity to mentor and teach her new colleague the ropes.  There were plenty of men, who Mikulski thought embodied more of the “every man for himself” philosophy, so she thought that the few women working there should work and even socialize together to share experiences and to form bonds. She described it as “each one, teach one,” a phrase that I found intriguing.  I wondered where it came from.  Turns out, the phrase “each one, teach one” is African in origin and it still has roots in the African-American community.  The notion that if someone is marginalized, they could reach their potential with some mentorship and guidance from someone who is already where they want to go.  

In an organizational communication course I’m teaching in Spring I ask students to interview three people who have jobs or careers that they admire.  I’m hoping that by reaching out to these accomplished professionals they see a glimpse of their future selves.  Even non-traditional students with years of work experience under their wings can get a sense of a change they’d like to make or a path worth pursuing in the future by interviewing professionals whom they admire.  Really, at the heart of this assignment is the same thing Senator Mikulski is talking about:  “each one, teach one.”

I think that the Internet is a useful way for people to connect, if not in person, then across cyberspace.  This is a handy list of great Web sites for women.  Everything from health, technology and fiction advice, it is worth a look to get caught up on information you like or need.  

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, (OK, I want to learn Chinese and to ballroom dance) but in general I want to embody the spirit of teaching and learning in every facet of my life in 2011.  I know that there are people out there I could learn from and I hope that I could teach not only in the classroom but in my daily life.

To Senator Mikulski on her leadership and inspiration!  She made me think of how “each one can teach one” in the new year and beyond!

Happy Teaching and Learning to You and Yours!

January 2011
« Dec   Feb »