The Live Audience in Online Public Speaking Courses: One More Try

After reading the varied posts, I’m convinced we (as an academic discipline) don’t have any evidence for the claims that a live audience is either effective or necessary in online public speaking courses. 

Although instructors noted how they handled this issue of a live audience, no one produced any evidence. In fact, I don’t know of any research showing that assembling 6 or more people and presenting a speech to them will improve someone’s public speaking skills more than will delivering it to a camera. If there is evidence, beyond the anecdotal, I’d much appreciate learning about it.

Some people report that there is inherent value in presenting a speech to a live audience. This may well be true (though I’m not sure) but perhaps an online public speaking course is not the place for it. We cannot provide students with experience in every type of public speaking situation. After all, the live audience that the speaker recruits is unlike any audience he or she will ever meet again. So, we are not really providing experience in facing a live (and realistic) audience.

Perhaps the online public speaking course should be focused on online public speaking—webinars, podcasts, videos on YouTube. Public speaking does not depend—for its definition or its existence—on a live audience. That’s just the way it has been for centuries; technology has changed that.

At least one person expressed the need to keep the online and the live classes as similar as possible. To this I would ask: Why? Why not two courses, each of which addresses a somewhat unique (but largely overlapping) set of learning outcomes.

In terms of education and training, perhaps we should focus on what each context does best—the online public speaking course for online speaking, the traditional classroom for live speaking. Even here, however, there is room for choice—the online class student could also give a speech to a live audience and the traditional class student could also give an online presentation. The key here, I think, is student choice, not requirement. Most students I’ve met, know what learning experiences will be helpful to them in life.

There seem conflicting views on the difficulties involved in requiring a live audience. Some seem to shrug it off as if it’s of no consequence while others acknowledge the dislike that students have for the requirement. My own feeling is that the difficulties are a great deal more than most instructors realize. I suggest asking your online students some simple questions like: How much time is involved in recruiting, assembling, and disassembling an audience? Are obligations to audience members incurred as a result of this requirement? Is this a good use of your time? Was it worth it?

I think the answers will be eye-openers and I think you’ll also find that requiring such a live audience—made up as it is of friends and family--adds to the already negative view that students have of public speaking (as well as to their level of communication apprehension). Why compound this with requirements that have not been shown to be effective or necessary? Why complexify a student’s life without evidence that the requirements are essential to the learning of public speaking? Why make public speaking a dreaded chore with needless hurdles rather than a course that students enjoy as well as profit from?

It seems reasonable to assume that most students allot their time among their varied courses, giving some courses more time and others less.  Similarly, each assignment is likely to be allotted a certain block of time—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. If this assumption is even partially true, then the time spent on recruiting a live audience (and the subsequent obligations)—all of which have nothing to do with public speaking--is time taken away from the research, construction, and rehearsal of the actual speech. I’m not sure this is time well spent.

In short, a live audience for online public speaking courses has not been shown to be effective or necessary to the learning of public speaking skills; it adds unnecessary hurdles, increases apprehension, and likely intensifies the negative view that many have of public speaking; and it takes time away from those activities that are directly related to public speaking.

And, it needs to be added, there are other more efficient and probably more effective ways of teaching the student to face an audience, whether live or online. For example, having the student construct a speech with a specific audience in mind (perhaps for listeners who are opposed to the thesis or favorable or lacking in knowledge or uninterested in the topic or college athletes or gun control advocates or police recruits or engineers—the list is limitless)—as I suggested in my previous post—would, it seems, help the student learn how to address different (but realistic) audiences in a more efficient and more enjoyable way.


The Audience in Online Speaking

The following post was sent to the basic course list (Basiccc@lists.udayton.edu) in response to a number of instructors explaining how they incorporated the live audience in an online public speaking course. But, I thought others might be interested in the issue. It's an important one and one that is sure to increase as online courses become more numerous.

I’ve read with much interest how various basic course instructors deal with online public speaking assignments. Many (perhaps most), it seems, require the student to deliver the speech in front of a live audience which must be video scanned. This requirement is surely well-intentioned, designed to enable the student to experience presenting to a live audience in as realistic a setting as possible. However, I think there’s a downside to this practice and I’d like to argue that it isn’t necessary and in many ways is counterproductive.
Public Speaking is a difficult course for many students, often because of their communication apprehension. Requiring them to round up 6 or 8 or more people to sit in the audience only adds to this anxiety and makes the course—for some, at least—an even rougher experience than it would be without this requirement. Public Speaking should be a course that students want to take, not something they dread taking.
If the aim of this requirement is to give the student practice in analyzing and adapting to an audience, it falls short. The audience is a fake one, made up of available friends and family; it’s not an audience that the student is likely to face in real life. Nor will these friends and family act and react as would a real audience.
There are other ways of giving the student practice in audience analysis and adaptation. For example, the student might select an “audience” to address: the audience of Fox News, at-risk high school students, followers of Yoko Ono on Twitter, the basketball team, NRA supporters, the PTA—or in fact any audience that the student would find useful in his or her anticipated profession. The student would then indicate—on the submitted speech text, outline, or audience analysis form —the analysis and the adaptations made in the speech for this specific audience. Should the course also include during-the-speech adaptation (a really advanced skill and one I have never seen demonstrated at any NCA convention presentation, for example), specific scenarios can easily be developed—several members of the audience are focused on their cell phones, some members look puzzled, a few members are shaking their heads in disagreement. Here again the student would indicate the chosen strategy for dealing with the cell phone users, the confused, or those signaling disagreement.
There are no doubt many other ways to ensure that the student learns the appropriate skills of speaking to an audience. And similar experiences can easily be developed to teach any of the other skills that might be taught and learned from dealing with a live, even if fake, audience. Requiring a live audience is not the only way.
Requiring the student to assemble and video a live audience not only adds to the student’s burden, it burdens the 6, 8, or more people that must assemble at a specific time, listen to a speech they may not be interested in, and then return to their respective spaces and continue with what they were doing. If you multiply the number of speakers by the number of audience members required by the number of speeches by the length of the speech, the resulting figure can be quite high even for a class of 20 or 30. Factoring in the time to select, request, assemble and return makes it too high (at least as I see it). This time and energy can surely be better spent by both speakers and audience members. And, it needs to be added, much of this—asking friends and family to drop what they’re doing to listen to a speech—has nothing to do with the principles and skills of public speaking.
Consider too the obligation that the speaker now has to these people; they did him or her a favor and favors require reciprocity. The speaker, by the very nature of the assignment, is required to violate the negative face needs of each of the audience members. That hardly seems fair or justifiable on the basis of teaching the skills of public speaking that can easily be taught in other ways.
The practice of requiring a video scanned live audience, as I see it, is not the only way to teach audience analysis and adaptation (or any other public speaking skill), adds to the anxiety of already anxious students, forces students to impose on others and incur obligations as a result, and wastes an enormous amount of time and energy that has nothing to do with public speaking.
None of this is not to say that the customary practice of having a video scanned live audience should be prohibited; it may be an option—one that I see as having considerable downside but one which some students might like and profit from. But, it should not be a requirement.


Etiquette and communication

Here's a wonderful brief post on etiquette and communication. A neat summary of some essential rules..



Making Choices

Here is a Word file of an article published in Etc: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 73, no 2, April 2016, pp. 173-179. The journal is a bit behind its normal publication schedule so this was just published.
Making Choices*
Living is a process of making choices. Much as you cannot not communicate, you cannot not make choices. Making choices is inevitable--even, as William James noted “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it that is in itself a choice.”
You make choices constantly—you chose what to wear, where to shop, what to eat, whom to call, what to read, what websites to access. Some choices are easy to make and some are difficult. Selecting a shirt or the way you want your eggs is an easy decision, largely because your ultimate choice doesn’t make much difference. But, some choices are extremely significant—where to go to college, what person to marry, what type of medical treatment to undergo, or what profession to enter. And, of course, these are the choices that are often the most difficult to make and that create the most stress.
The financial decisions you make, even in the earliest stages of your earning life, will impact the house you live in, the schools your children go to, the car you drive, the restaurants you can afford, and lots more. Your interpersonal decisions—whom to date, whom to marry, whom to friend or de-friend--will impact your personal and social lives in every conceivable way. In the workplace, your decisions—depending on your degree of influence and job description—whom to hire, whom to promote, whom to fire--will impact a major part of your life and those who are a part of the workplace.
Even intrapersonal success (i.e., self-satisfaction, happiness, contentment) is influenced by the choices you make and by the way you approach and the way you react to the choices you’ve made. Your choices, in effect, define who you are--as Dumbledore said to Harry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

In making choices—say, what car to buy, how to break up romantic relationship, how to deal with a disturbing neighbor, how to manage an underperforming employee--there are at least four basic steps.
1. Identify your aim. What do you want to accomplish? The more specifically you can identify your aim, the better your chances for accomplishing it. High abstractions are difficult to use as choice-making guides.
2. Identify your available options or choices. What are the things you can do? A reasonable number of choices need to be identified. Too many choices can lead to choice paralysis; here the field of potential choices is so great that the process of selecting any one seems overwhelming and so you do nothing (Iyengar, 2011).
3. Identify the relative merits of each choice. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?
4. Act. Select. Choose. Decide. Implement the choice with the most advantages and the least disadvantages.
You may want to add a fifth step that focuses on securing feedback on your decision—Did the choice work? Did it help you achieve your aim? Did it create additional problems? Answers to such questions might then prove helpful in future choice-making situations or even in attempting to redo or undo the choices you’ve already made.
Making effective decisions is only one part of the choice making process. The other part is living with constant choice making and with your specific decisions, processes that are often stressful and often engender regret.
Political scientist and economic theorist Herbert A. Simon (1956) drew a useful distinction between different types of choice makers which help explain some of the reasons for stress. Some people are maximizers; these choice-makers go to unusual lengths to examine their possible choices and their respective merits, determined to make the very best decision possible. Maximizers are rarely satisfied with their choices, thinking that somehow, someway a better decision could have been made. Other people are satisficers (a combination of satisfy and suffice). These people examine their options—but not obsessively—and make the best choice possible. They rarely look back; they don’t worry unduly about the possible advantages that other choices might have provided or the possible disadvantages that the present decision might entail. In short, they settle for a reasonable choice. The satisficer’s creed is neatly summed up in the title of Lori Gottlieb’s (2011) book, Marry him: The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough. Of course, most people are in between these extremes; some closer to the maximizer end point and some closer to the satisficer end point; you maximize and satisfice to some degree. And, of course, you likely maximize or satisfice more when making some choices and maximize or satisfice less when making others. As you can appreciate maximizers experience a great deal more stress than satisficers both in making the choice and in living with it.
In addition, choice making produces stress when you know your choice is to be evaluated, when the decision is crucial to life, when there is great uncertainty about the outcomes, when the decision has to be made quickly. One of the problems which stress causes—in addition to the obvious emotional upheaval—is that under stress you are more likely to focus on the positive outcomes of your possible choice rather than the possible negative outcomes, thereby distorting clear evaluation and analysis (Mather & Lighthall, 2012). The real estate salesperson who urges you to make a quick decision because others are interested, is likely banking on your stress leading you to emphasize the positives in the new home and to ignore the negatives.
Along with stress, choice making often produces regret. One reason for this is that in making a decision to select one from among, say, A, B, or C, you are accepting the negative features of your selected choice (one reason for regret) and rejecting the positive features of the choices you rejected (a second reason for regret). It’s a kind of buyer’s (or seller’s) remorse—you wonder if you paid too much or sold too low.
This regret is compounded by the very human tendency to engage in counterfactual thinking—thinking about a past that didn’t exist (Mandel, Hilton, & Catellani, 2005). It often comes in the form of “If only I had chosen X instead of Y.” Upward counterfactual thinking—the more common form--focuses on how things might have been better had you chosen A rather than B—If only I had invested in Amazon years ago; if only I’d practiced safe sex; if only I had gone to work for ABC. The more you focus on what might have been, the more inadequate your choices seem and the more regret you feel. Downward counterfactual thinking—engaged in less frequently-- focuses on how things could have been worse—If I hadn’t invested as I did, we’d be broke instead of rich. This thinking is comforting.
Not surprisingly, General Semantics has much to offer in the way of helping you to make better choices and to reduce the stress and regret that often accompanies decision making. And, again, not surprisingly, these come from the simplest of GS principles. Given this basic model of choice making and its accompanying stress and regret, here follow a few suggestions for making choices the General Semantics way.
Avoid Signal Reactions
In General Semantics an important distinction is made between delayed and undelayed (immediate) reactions. Surely, there are times when you have to make a decision immediately and instinctively. You don’t want to delay your choices while you debate the kind of snake hissing at you. Best you get out of the way as fast as possible.  But, in the vast majority of cases, there is at least some time for delayed reactions that enable you to think the situation through and to identify some possible choices and their relative merits.
A cost-benefits analysis where you identify each possible choice and its advantages and disadvantages will likely prove helpful. In some cases, a weighted cost-benefits analysis might be needed where each advantage and each disadvantage is given a weight relative to all other items. After all, not all advantages are equally advantageous.
Another useful technique is the 10/10/10 strategy (Welch & Welch, 2010). With this strategy you visualize what your choice would look like in 10 minutes, in 10 months, and in 10 years. This strategy forces you to consider both short-term and long-term effects of your choice and to see your choice from different time perspectives.
It’s also a useful technique in dealing with communication apprehension as in public speaking.  Looking at the feared public speaking situation—even considering that you gave the worst speech ever given—from a 10-year perspective makes the immediate apprehension seem not so important.
          During any analysis—but especially after lengthy evaluation—decision fatigue may set in. You get so fed up with all the choices and the advantages and disadvantages of each that you just want to buy the next car you see, send an “It’s over” email, report your neighbor to the police, and simply fire the underperforming associate, and not think any more about it. Not worrying about the available choices and their respective merits becomes the important aim; making the right decision is secondary. At this point, it’s best to stop the process, watch some television, and get back to decision-making when the fatigue is gone or at least under control.
Avoid Indiscrimination
One of the time-honored principles of General Semantics is that of non-identity—no two things are identical—similar, perhaps; identical, never. And so a useful principle in choice making is to recognize that no choice situations are the same; each choice situation is unique.
This simple principle of non-identity—when not recognized—seems the cause of much misevaluation. When you assume that the current situation is the same as a previous situation, you fail to take into consideration the uniquenesses impacting on the decision you now have before you. Keeping the index in mind helps: choice1 is not choice2 is not choice3.
Choices are also unique because things change; everything and everyone changes. A mindset of static evaluation—rather than that of constant change--can only get in the way of effective analysis of a situation. The date is a helpful device to recall: choice made two years ago is not choice made today; choice2016 is not choice2018; choicein the heat of an argument is not choicein a supportive exchange of ideas. We have changed, the other person has changed, the relationship has changed, the situation has changed; everything has changed.
Avoid Polarization
Most choice making situations—especially important ones—involve more possibilities than two—so the suggestion here is simply to recognize and combat the tendency to engage in either-or or polarized thinking. If you hear yourself identifying your choices with only one “or”—as in Should I do this OR that—stop and ask what other possibilities are available.
          One useful technique to gain other perspectives other than the two-valued kind (and help you to identify additional potential choices) is to create a ghost-thinking team—much like politicians have ghost writers—to give you different perspectives (DeVito, 1996). On the basis of your impending choice and your own personality, philosophy, and way of thinking, you can select any two, three, four, five, or more real—historical if you want—or fictional characters and ask what would they do? Sherlock Holmes, a revered religious leader, Wonder Woman, a scientist, a psychologist, a General Semanticist. All are potentially useful ghosts who might provide unique perspectives on the choices that can best help you achieve your aim.
          A related technique is the best friend strategy (Beisswanger, Stone, Hupp, & Allgaier (2010), where you ask yourself how you would advise a friend in a similar situation. This strategy is a popular one in choice making and can help depersonalize the choice just enough to give you another point of view (Schwartz, 2004; Heath & Heath, 2013).
Avoid Allness
This principle of non-allness is crucial in making choices but also in living with them. You can never know all about anything; your information is always incomplete. Whatever you do know is limited. You also have limited time, limited resources, and limited stamina to make your inventory of choices and their respective merits. So, because you can never have all the relevant information, you have to select a choice that best represents what you do know at the present time. There needs to be an implicit or explicit etc. at the end of any analysis.
The “vanishing options” test is often helpful in this connection (Heath & Heath, 2013). In this strategy you identify your choices—even your best choice—and then visualize what you would do if that choice was somehow not available any longer. You’ve finally settled on a Toyota Camry and are ready to buy. With the vanishing options test, you would now need to consider what you would do if there were no longer any Toyota Camrys to buy. The technique forces you to go outside your previously made decisions and reconsider your options.
This principle of non-allness is also helpful in lessening any guilt or discomfort that comes from recognizing better choices after the fact.  No matter how complete and diligent your identification and analysis of possible choices—ultimately to help you predict the outcomes of each choice—your prediction is an inference. The outcomes or effects of your choices are inferences which have varying degrees of accuracy. You can never make factual statements about the future; future statements are always inferential. It is only about the past and the present that you can make factual statements (Weinberg, 1959). And so, in a way, it’s comforting to know that when decisions don’t work out that you weren’t in a position to know or predict this at the time. You cannot logically and sanely blame yourself for not predicting the future.
Of course, these few suggestions are not going to ensure effective choices or reduce the stress or regret that often accompanies choice making. But, they can, it seems, eliminate some barriers to making and living with your choices and provide at least some guidance.

DeVito, J. A. (1996). Brainstorms: How to think more creatively about communication (or about anything else). New York: Longman.
Gottlieb, L. (2011). Marry him: The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough. Berkley, CA: Berkley.
Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2013). Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work. New York: Random House/Crown.
Iyengar, S. (2011). The art of choosing. New York: Hatchette/Twelve.
Mandel, D. R., Hilton, D. J., & Catellani, P. (Eds.). (2005). The psychology of counterfactual thinking. New York: Routledge.
Mather, M., & Lighthall, N. R. (2012) Risk and reward are processed differently in decisions made under stress. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21 (1): 36-41. DOI: 10.1177/0963721411429452
Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: Why more is less. New York: Harper Perennial.
Simon, H. A. (1956). Rational choice and the structure of the environment. Psychological Review 63 (2), pp. 129-138.
Weinberg, H. L. (1959). Levels of knowing and existence: Studies in General Semantics. New York: Harper & Row.
Welch, S., & Welch, J. (2010). 10-10-10: A fast and powerful way to get unstuck in love, at work, and with your family, New York: Scribner’s.
Beisswanger, A. H., Stone, E. R., Hupp, J. M., & Allgaier, L. (2010). Risk taking in relationships: Differences in deciding for oneself versus for a friend. Journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 121-135.

*Joseph A. DeVito is Professor Emeritus, Hunter College of the City University of New York.


Conversational Analysis

Tools to analyze and ultimately improve conversation and communication generally have traditionally come in the form of suggestions or guidelines written in a textbook or a how-to-do-it trade book. But, recently, software programs such as Cogito have been developed. These programs are based on an extremely thorough analysis of all sorts of communication signals, especially nonverbal signals, for example, varied or consistent emphasis, mimicking or mirroring, and vocal-cord tension. They read these signals as you are speaking and they offer guidance (don’t vary your emphasis too much, you’re not mirroring the other person’s nonverbals, the person is getting agitated). The target audience for such tools is vast and is currently being tested with and in use with some health care providers and call-in centers.  Here are a few references that might prove helpful.
Bercovici, J. (2017, July/August). The machine that makes you human. Inc. 76-82.

Zarya, V. (2017, May). The future of collaboration. Fortune 175, 71-72.


Here's a good example of the importance of using appropriate and inappropriate cultural identifiers.

FILE: HBO host Bill Maher has been criticized for using racial slur during interview.


Prosocial Communication

This discussion of prosocial communication is a preliminary version of a section I'm considering adding to the new edition of The Interpersonal Communication Book. It would be the final section of the last chapter. I'd be very interested in hearing what you think of this section. Any comments, positive or negative, will be greatly appreciated.

Prosocial Communication
In Chapter 10 we looked at the dark side of interpersonal relationships (jealousy and relationship violence) and, in this chapter, we looked at the misuses of power (sexual harassment, bullying, and power plays), other “dark” sides. As a counterpoint to these “dark” sides we need also to highlight the more positive sides of interpersonal communication and relationships or what we might call prosocial communication. Here we consider the nature of prosocial communication, the factors that influence or inhibit such communication, some examples of prosocial communication, and some of its potential effects.

The Nature of Prosocial Communication

Prosocial communication is communication that benefits another individual, group, society, or the entire species in some way. The communication may be verbal or nonverbal or, as usual, some combination of verbal and nonverbal messages.
          A simple smile, compliment, or helpful advice would be examples of prosocial communication benefiting another individual’s self-esteem or future behavioral choices. A phone call or text to report a crime or a person in need of medical attention would also be examples of prosocial communication. The publication of research is another example of prosocial communication since it advances our knowledge of some topic in some way.  And, to the extent that knowledge is beneficial, the publication of research is prosocial. Speeches or posts espousing accepted values in a culture—whether they be equality, democracy, freedom of speech-–would be considered examples of prosocial communication benefiting the larger social group.
          As you might expect the definition of prosocial communication will vary with the culture. And so, while supporting gay rights or women’s rights in some cultures would be considered prosocial, it would not be in others. And the same is true with a wide variety of religious, political, and social issues.
On the Internet both crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are examples of prosocial communication (Sproull, Conley, & Moon, 2004). When you help another person find the right plumber or get opinions on different graduate schools (as you would in responding to a crowdsourcing request), you’re engaging in prosocial communication. Similarly, when you send in a donation for a particular project (as you would in responding to a crowdfunding request), you’re engaging in a prosocial act or at least you assume the request is legitimate rather than a scam. Also needed to be included here are the numerous prosocial communication options for comments on posts.
Prosocial communication is not the opposite of anti-social communication. If you give a homeless person money for coffee, we’d say this is a prosocial act but if you don’t give it, it doesn’t mean that your behavior is anti-social. It’s just not, in this case, prosocial.
And, contrary to what many would think, prosocial communication is not necessarily altruistic. Altruism may motivate the prosocial communication but it is not an essential component. In fact, there is some evidence that altruism is the primary motivation for prosocial behavior generally (Stiff, Dillard, Somera, Kim, & Sleight, 2009). But, prosocial communication may also be motivated by selfishness, the need for approval or as a preface to asking a favor. It does not have to be motivated by positive emotions such as love, empathy, or friendship. In fact, some theorists would argue that all behavior (even prosocial behavior) is motivated by egoism, not altruism (http://www.iep.utm.edu/psychego/).

Factors Influencing Prosocial Communication

A wide variety of factors can be identified that may influence prosocial communication. Some factors encourage and others inhibit the expression of prosocial communication.
One factor is that of similarity. Similarity encourages prosocial communication; you’re more apt to engage in prosocial communication with those who are similar to you than with those who are different—whether in sex, in age, in culture, or in religion--than you are with those who are unlike you. Dissimilarity often reduces the likelihood of prosocial communication.
Your relationship bonds will influence your prosocial communication.  As you’d expect, you’re more likely to engage in prosocial communication with those you are friends with or those you love. This seems partly due to the expectation (or perhaps obligation) you have towards friends and family and partly due to your wanting to do good things for friends and family (that is, to people you like). With enemies or with disliked others, prosocial communication is likely to be inhibited.
When someone engages in prosocial communication that benefits you, you’re more likely to reciprocate and return prosocial communication. This is simply another example of the law of reciprocity—you are apt to engage in behavior that is similar to the behavior of others; you tend to give back what you are given.
Your history of reinforcement will influence your prosocial communication, as it will any form of communication. If you’ve been rewarded for prosocial communication, you’d be more likely to continue to engage in and even increase such communication. If you were punished for it or if it was ignored, you’d likely decrease such communication. Even expressions of gratitude increase the likelihood of prosocial behavior and communication (Grant & Gino, 2010). Similarly, the expectation of reward will influence your prosocial communication. We live in a world that, at least on the surface, rewards prosocial communication. Those who engage in prosocial communication seem to be liked more than those who don’t. And so, you might engage in prosocial communication because you anticipate that it will lead others to reward you in some way, perhaps to like you more.
Your personality affects your communication and certain personality traits, for example, altruism, will encourage prosocial communication and other personality traits, for example, selfishness, will likely lead to less such communication. Some research finds that the prosocial orientation depends on two major personality traits: other-oriented empathy and helpfulness (Penner & Orom, 2010).
The teachings of your culture and with those with whom you come into contact will influence your tendencies to engage in prosocial communication. Your culture has taught you about the rules for prosocial communication and you likely follow these unconsciously internalized rules. For example, collectivist cultures such as Venezuela, Indonesia, Pakistan, Guatemala, and China emphasize prosocial communication more than individualist cultures such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Italy, and Denmark. It is, for example, extremely important in collectivist cultures to be supportive of the other person, to praise the other person, to not call any errors to attention, to agree rather than disagree—all prosocial communication. This doesn’t mean that these communications are not supported in individualist cultures; they are, but just not as much. In addition to the rules of the culture, you also learn to engage in prosocial communication from parents, from teachers, and from peers. You may be praised by your parents for saying nice things about your kid sister or notice that those who engage in prosocial communication seem to be liked more than those who don’t.
And, because culture influences the gender roles we learn, your gender will also influence prosocial communication. Generally, research finds that both genders engage in prosocial communication equally but in different ways.  Women seem to engage in more prosocial verbal communication while men are more likely to engage in more prosocial nonverbal communication (Dickman & Eagly, 2000).  For example, a man is more likely to go into a burning building to rescue someone or to break up a fight and a woman is more likely to express positive feelings and give compliments.
One additional factor should be noted and that is the situation that arises when you’re in a crowd and someone is in need of help. Research shows that in these situations, you are less likely to help. This tendency is referred to as the diffusion of responsibility (Darley & Latane, 1968). The idea here is that people feel they needn’t do anything since someone else in the crowd is likely to do it. A related factor influencing whether or not you offer to act prosocially is your view of the crowd. When you make your decision to act or not to act (that is, to help the person in need), you may take your cues from the crowd and if the crowd does nothing, then you figure you shouldn’t either. Appropriately enough, this tendency is referred to as pluralistic ignorance (Latane & Darley, 1970) and can lead to a variety of negative consequences (Fisher, et al., 2011).

Examples of Prosocial Communication

Throughout your course and textbook, numerous examples of prosocial communication have been identified. Here are just ten to remind you of the varied ways in which following the principles of interpersonal communication may lead to prosocial communication.
·       Communicating with cultural sensitivity. People benefit in their self-view when their cultural beliefs are understood and respected.
·       Listening empathically. When you listen empathically, you’re performing a prosocial communication act by providing a supportive and understanding ear.
·       Responding appropriately to the emotional expression of others. When you offer comfort and support to the grief stricken, you’re performing a prosocial communication act.
·       Confirming. Communications that acknowledge the importance and contributions of another are likely to have a beneficial effect while disconfirming messages are likely to yield no such benefits and perhaps a variety of negative responses.
·       Advising. When you offer advice, assuming it is asked for, you are performing a prosocial communication act by sharing what you know or think with another person in an effort to comfort or reassure them.
·       Complimenting. When you compliment someone for a job well done or for looking good, you’re performing a prosocial communication act by helping the other person to feel more positively.
·       Mentoring/Sharing. When you mentor someone, you’re performing a prosocial communication act by sharing with them your expertise and experience—making them more efficient workers or better speakers, for example. Teaching in all its forms would be included here.
·       Communicating politely. When you respect a person’s need for both positive and negative face, you’re engaging in prosocial communication.
·       Argue fairly and constructively. When you engage in conflict fairly and constructively you show respect and confirm the other person. So, when you’re argumentative rather than aggressive, you’re engaging in prosocial communication.
·       Responding to the dark side of interpersonal communication. When you confront bullying or sexual harassment constructively (and safely) you’re performing a prosocial communication function.

Effects of Prosocial Communication

Prosocial communication most obviously has an effect on the other person. As the examples given above illustrate prosocial communication benefits other people by making them feel better about themselves or enabling them to do what they do more effectively and/or more efficiently.
          But, your prosocial behavior also has an effect on you; you feel better about yourself for having done something good for someone else. In fact, there is considerable research showing that personal pleasure and happiness often comes from helping others (https://thinklivebepositive.wordpress.com/category/helping-others-makes-you-happy/).
          And, in many ways, prosocial communication benefits the society as a whole when, for example, you campaign for clean water or when you argue against injustice. Even when you mentor a young person, for example, you’re influencing the larger society by helping this person do a better job—be a better bus driver (benefiting the passengers), or teacher (benefiting students), or store clerk (making life easier for harried customers). Each act has ripple effects and prosocial communication has positive ripple effects.

Exercises and Discussion Questions

Giving and Receiving Prosocial Communication
Here are two scenarios which have the potential for prosocial communication. Examining these situations will further clarify the nature and function of prosocial communication. The first scenario focuses on your making prosocial communication choices and the second on the prosocial communication you might like to receive from others.
Giving Prosocial Communication
One of your close friends has been having a pretty awful time; failed two courses, lost a great part-time job, and was dumped by a long-time romantic partner. Your friend call you; tells you all this and pauses, waiting for you to say something.
1.     Identify two or three choices for prosocial communication, select the one you think best, and explain why you think this is the best choice.
2.     In what way might this choice benefit the other person?
3.     In what way might this choice benefit you?
4.     In what way might this choice benefit the larger social group or society as a whole?
Receiving Prosocial Communication
At dinner with four of your closest friends, you mention that you are feeling depressed lately and are thinking of quitting college.
1.     Identify two or three choices for your friends’ prosocial communication that you might find useful.
2.     In what way might these choices benefit you?
3.     In what way might these choices benefit your friends?
4.     In what way might these choices benefit the larger social group or society as a whole?

Defining Prosocial Communication
There is no universally accepted definition of prosocial communication. Some theorists define it as behavior that benefits another but with no thought of personal reward; others define it as behavior that is intended to serve a prosocial function. Here are a few questions about: Where is prosocial communication?
a.      Is it in the intention of the communicator? Would a totally destructive bit of advice be prosocial communication if there was the intention to help. For example, would a friend’s advice on how to dress, that leads the person into a long period of depression, be prosocial if the friend’s intentions were good and were intended to help rather than harm the friend? 
b.     Is it in the non-expectation of gain? Some definitions of prosocial behavior define it as behavior that benefits others without the expectation of any personal gain. So, does the real estate salesperson engage in prosocial communication when she convinces a potential buyer to buy a house—that is sure to (and actually does) increase dramatically in value—when her motivation is the commission she’ll earn from the sale?
c.       Is it in the message? Consider this: you’re having coffee with your romantic partner and announce your desire to break up. Your partner is overcome with shock and goes to the restroom. Almost immediately after getting up, a stray bullet is fired and would have hit your partner had your partner not gotten up. Was the breakup speech prosocial communication?
d.     Is it in the effect? Let’s say, Jim wants to bankrupt John and so convinces him to invest all his assets in a particular stock. Contrary to Jim’s expectation, the stock soars in value and John becomes a multi-millionaire. Was Jim’s communication prosocial?
So, in your opinion, where is prosocial communication? How would you define prosocial communication?

Discussion Questions
1.     How would you describe an insincere compliment in terms of prosocial communication? A forced smile?
2.     What role does emotion work play in prosocial communication?
3.     How would you describe the rules of netiquette generally or the rules for communicating on any one of the varied social media sites in terms of prosocial communication?
4.     In what way does Facebook, Twitter, or any of the online dating sites promote prosocial communication? Can you find examples that might discourage prosocial communication?
5.     How would you describe the prosocial behavior in general and the prosocial communication in particular exhibited by the typical superhero?
6.     How would you explain the role of prosocial communication in developing and maintaining friendship and/or romantic relationships? What role does prosocial communication have on the immediate and extended family?

7.     How would you describe your own prosocial communications? Consider, for example, such concepts as the contexts in which such behavior occurs, the channels used, the feedback, and the effects.