Larry Craig's Speech

Senator Larry Craig’s speech—of apology? of explanation? of excuse?—is a useful one for analyzing special occasion speaking. It’s in fact as good an example of crap as I’ve seen. It’s crap, in the sense that Neil Postman used the term in his Teaching as a Subversive Activity—a book that totally changed me as a teacher—and we, as educators, need to be crap detectors and call this speech what it is.
Craig said he did nothing wrong at the airport. If what he did was flirt or indicate his interest in another adult—in this case male—then he did in fact nothing wrong to my mind. After all, any reasonable and intelligent adult, upon being propositioned—if this was in fact what happened—would simply say “Thank you, but no thanks; I’m flattered, but I’m not interested.” Admittedly, the context for this “proposition” was not ideal but it seems no cause for alarm; after all, this was all probably done in private and without imposing on the sensibilities of any one else.
So, then, why is the speech crap? It’s crap because Craig is trying to cover up his stupidity, his poor judgment, and his real self. It assumes the listener is an idiot. Saying that he only confessed because he was being harassed by the Idaho Statement seems absurd. Craig is no teenager; he’s a person who has been a member of the power-elite for years (10 years in the House and 6 in the Senate). I seriously doubt that he would be so upset and so stupid as to admit he did something he didn’t.
Further, by repeatedly attesting to his heterosexuality—amid increasingly convincing evidence to the contrary--he shows himself to be a man who either doesn’t know himself or is trying to fool his “wife, family, friends, staff and Idaho.”
Perhaps most important is that this man—this man who is now convincingly (it seems to me) accused of homosexual solicitation (and this is not the only accusation; there have been others)—has voted to prohibit gay marriage and against including attacks on gay people under the definition of hate crimes. Is this the kind of man Idahoans want representing them? I’m sure not. Nor do I believe that his wife, Suzanne, who is currently standing dutifully by the Senator, doesn’t know what is going on and so, in my mind, is complicit in this crap business.
Craig is a perfect example of the usefulness of outing. Now that he’s been outed, he’s no longer in a position to continue attacking gay rights, unless, of course, people are still willing to listen to him.
Yes, viewing the public speaking critic as crap detector seems a useful perspective, especially in 2007.


Introducing ABCD

ABCD stands for A Beginner’s Communication Dictionary and is primarily addressed to students (but also to instructors) and anyone interested in communication. My purpose here is modest and simple—it’s to elaborate on some of the central terms in communication that your textbook—even if you’re using one of mine—may not have clarified sufficiently. Textbook authors are under great pressure to not add pages when they do a revision; if something is added, something must be taken out. And that’s not easy to do; everything seems so important (at least to the author). So, there often isn’t enough space to include more extended definitions.
I will try to go beyond what I say in my texts though I may use that as a base or take-off point. Hopefully these definitions will expand or supplement or provide additional perspectives on the terms defined in your text—rather than simply repeat what’s in the text. Another value of these definitions (I hope) is to reinforce the terms discussed in your text and course; just reading the definition again with perhaps different examples and in another format will, I suspect, help you learn the concept on a more meaningful level.
Some of these words are common words given special meaning in communication; noise and feedback are good examples. Other words are basically academic jargon; impression management and impression formation are examples. All, however, are important to understanding and learning about communication.
My intention is to post one definition each week for the next 14 or 15 weeks (covering a semester), probably over the weekend, and then see what happens. If these prove useful, I’ll continue; if there are easier and better ways to cover such terms and if this proves ineffective, I’ll turn attention to something else. My goal is to find interesting ways to supplement the traditional textbook with additional materials that we’d probably all recognize are useful to students learning the theories and skills of communication. The question, I guess, that needs exploration and that I’m trying to address, is what materials are most important as supplements to the textbook and how can these materials be most effectively presented. Posting these definitions on the blog is one attempt in this direction.
I also intend to keep these definitions fairly brief and hopefully following Albert Einstein’s suggestion that everything should be made as simple as possible, but never so simple that significant factors are ignored or distorted. I’ll also try to provide suggestions for further reading when appropriate. All of these definitions should be accessible through the descriptor/key word ABCD.
First, however, let me say something about the importance of terms and their definitions to your academic study of communication. As you already know—just from having listened to lectures and having read textbooks in different subject areas—each discipline has its own vocabulary. And, to make matters more confusing, some use the same word in vastly different ways. The term culture, for example, means one thing in anthropology and quite another in biology. If you defined culture on an anthropology exam as it’s defined in biology, you’d be marked incorrect; the meanings are totally different. In the same way, family means one thing in sociology and quite another in linguistics. And, as you also already know, communication has its own vocabulary, consisting of words of jargon, developed specifically to talk about communication, and regular words used in specialized senses.
There are several reasons why these different vocabularies were developed, why they’re maintained, and why they’re ever expanding.
• Each discipline focuses on somewhat different phenomena and therefore each needs specific terms to refer to these phenomena. “Message” is a useful concept in ordinary talk but in communication we need to make finer distinctions; after all, not all messages are the same. Taking just one example: some messages refer primarily to content—to, say, the movie you just saw—and others refer more to relationships—to, say, who gets to make the final decision or the last word. And so we talk about content messages and relationship messages as well as messages (in the more general sense).
• The specialized and technical language of a discipline enables researchers and theorists in the field to communicate more efficiently and more precisely. The distinction between content and relationship messages is just one example.
• Knowing the specialized vocabulary may enable you to identify more clearly or notice or remember certain things more easily. If you can readily label something, you’re probably more likely to notice it and be able to recall it at a later time. The linguistic tag (the name, the label), it’s assumed, enables you to more easily store the information in memory and be able to recall it. For example, once you understand the very elementary distinction between content and relationship messages, you’ll start noticing messages that are primarily focused on content and distinguishing them from messages that are primarily focused on relationships. With further insight, you’ll be able to see quite clearly when misunderstandings and conflicts are caused by the failure to recognize this distinction between these two kinds of messages. And you’ll be able to use this knowledge in your own messages. For example, when a message is primarily relational (“I can’t stand it when you ignore me!”) and you respond as if it’s primarily about content (“I do not ignore you”) you miss the chance to make real contact with the other person’s feelings. A relationally oriented message such as “I know I sometimes get wrapped up in my own world and seem to block out everyone else. . . .” might have been more effective. This is simply one of the skills you’ll acquire and one that can be clarified and enhanced with this specialized vocabulary.
And this is about as good a way as I can think of to explain the nature of “communication skills”. Textbooks differ widely on what they consider a skill even though they all use the term skill. I like to think of the term skill as the ability to do something. This skill will likely depend on your knowing something first. But, just knowing something is not sufficient for skill mastery; you need to be able to do something better or different than you did before you acquired the skill. And that’s what a skill is: the ability to accomplish your communication goal, to do something better, more effectively, more efficiently, more persuasively, more passionately—or whatever your particular goal is.
So, these are some of the reasons why the vocabulary you’ll learn in this course is an important part of learning what communication is and how you can communicate more effectively. At the same time that you’ll learn the subject by learning its vocabulary, you will (I hope) gain a deeper appreciation for the power of language generally.
I invite whoever might read these definitions (students, instructors, blog surfers) to add examples, correct any misleading statements, clarify anything that is not clear, extend the definition to other areas, suggest additional references, or note any research results that might be relevant to the definition. All you have to do is leave a comment to the post of the definition on which you want to expand/clarify/exemplify. Or, if you prefer, e-mail me at jadevito@earthlink.net.


To Beginning Students

Here is an amended and edited note I sent to my niece, Christina, as she was preparing to go off to college this week and I thought it might be of interest to students beginning their college career this semester. It’s a simple list of do’s and don’ts about courses to take and courses to avoid.

1. Don't take a course because your friend is taking it. In fact, going into a course with a friend may prevent you from making new friends. More important, that's not a good reason to spend 45 hours in class, 90 hours of homework, and a few thousand $.
2. Don't take a course just because it's reported to be an easy A or because there's little homework. While courses like this may raise your GPA, they really won't help you in life.
3. Don't take a course because the teacher seems nice. Nice and competent are two different things and while it's nice to have a nice teacher, it's a lot less important than having a competent one.
4. If you have the opportunity--and you may not in your first year or two—take a look at the syllabi for the courses you’re interested in. Many of these are readily available on the Web; just search for the course title and the instructor’s name or perhaps go through the college website. Reviewing the syllabus will give you an idea of the topics covered in the course and what will be expected of you.
5. Take courses that will educate you--that is, make you a well rounded intelligent individual--this doesn't mean that you're not one already, only that everyone can improve or so we educators assume. Take courses (at least introductory ones)in the fine arts, in art and music and theatre. Take a philosophy course or two--it will show you how the great thinkers thought. Take a course or two in economics (even if it may seem dry and uninteresting to you now). Take a course in anthropology; it will help you become less ethnocentric (my assumption is that we're all ethnocentric to some degree and our task is to try to reduce it and not let it blind us to the tremendous values to be derived from other cultures). Anthropology will help you see other cultures from other perspectives and in the process your own culture with a somewhat different lens. And last take communication courses--English and Speech Communication. Learn to write and speak as effectively as you possibly can. If you just glance at the want ads in the Sunday paper, you'll see that "communication skills" is almost always mentioned, regardless of the type of job. And if you read the first chapter of just about any textbook in communication, you’ll find additional evidence on the importance of communication skills.
6. Don't avoid courses because you may not do well in them. Although you need to keep up a good GPA, you also need to learn what you don't already know--after all, that's the purpose of college--and that often entails courses that you may not do well in. Many schools have systems in place which encourage students to take courses outside their area of competence without damaging their GPA, such as Pass-Fail options. Take advantage of them.
7. Don't worry about locking yourself into a major so early. Just explore, don't commit. You'll always have the opportunity to concentrate in your area of specialization. Devote yourself now to exploring the world of ideas and there's no better place to do that than college.
8. Work hard in the courses even when you don't have to. Remember, what you do in these courses is going to become part of who you are and who you become. You can't do mediocre work and expect to become excellent; you can only become excellent by acting excellently :-)
9. Approach your courses positively, with the idea that you're going to enjoy them and learn a lot from them. Learning can and should be fun. Too often, the bad reputation of a course or perhaps simply because it's required, gives students a negative attitude toward the course and perhaps the subject matter. This only makes learning more difficult.
10. Use your course work to continue keeping up with technology. For example, if you're taking public speaking, learn PowerPoint in and out and make use of it (even if you don’t have to). If possible, take a few computer science courses. And if your coursework doesn't help you keep up with technology, seek out the information and skills elsewhere on campus. It’s essential that you become comfortable with and proficient in the newest technologies; your competence here (as with communication) will prove useful throughout your career, regardless of what that career turns out to be.

Intercultural communication Taboos

Here's a great little article on intercultural communication with some excellent contemporary examples of the problems that can be created when a person from one culture violates the rules of another. The print article contained a great 4-part graphic: Physical contact such as shaking hands between men and women in public is taboo in Vietnam. Holding up your hand with the palm facing outward is offensive to Greeks--so watch out when you're hailing a cab in Greece. Putting a business card in your back pocket when you're the giver of the card is disrespectful in Japan. The thumbs up sign is considered obscene in Egypt. Unlike most articles cited in textbooks which are based on research, this article draws on intercultural watchers, consultants, and popular writers. It's a good complement. There are lots of excellent examples from recent history, for example,GM renaming it's Buick LaCrosse for a Canadian audience (since LaCrosse is slang for masturbation).


Public speaking

If you're looking for public speaking in different cultures, take a look at this.

Public Speaking Tip

Here's a great little video with a public speaking message.


The Nonverbal Communication Workbook

I now have the copyright to The Nonverbal Communication Workbook, a book I published some time ago. Though much has changed in the field of nonverbal communication, the introductory essays and the exercises seem still valid; they need to be supplemented by more recent research and theory. Michael Hecht of Penn State and I are planning to do a revision of this but are not sure just when it will be completed.
In the meantime, should anyone wish to use this workbook in teaching a course or unit on nonverbal communication, please feel free to do so. You may use the book in whole or in part for any educational purpose you’d like without charge (except that you’ll have to have it photocopied and I don’t have any spare copies, unfortunately) and without any further specific permission. I would ask that you acknowledge where the material came from with a note something like this:
Used by permission of the author, Joseph A. DeVito, The Nonverbal Communication Workbook.


Organizing the speech

Here's an interesting argument for deviating from the traditional tell your listeners what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. To my knowledge, no one has really done any research to see if this time-honored pattern is useful for all age groups equally.

What Not to Say

There's an interesting article in USA Today (August 7) that talks about weddings. In a box there are tips on what not to say if you're the mother of the groom: Don't criticize the bride, put your son in the middle, speak negatively of the bride's family, act like someone you're not, talk about the newly marrieds having kids. These suggestions, btw, come from Sharon Naylor's Mother of the Groom. This got me thinking that we don't talk enough about what not to say in our textbooks and classrooms. Generally, our instruction is of the what to do type, not the what not to do type and when you think of it, both seem equally important. And so I thought that a useful experience might be to ask students to generate "what not to say" lists for a variety of occasions--to the son at the funeral of his mother, to a new mother, to a new physician, to new neighbors who moved in next door, to the neighbors' children who make too much noise, to the interviewer's assistant as you wait to be interviewed, to the aging aunt who has to go into a nursing home, to your partner after the worst date in your life, and on and on, depending on your specific students and specific teaching goals.