Deception Detection and Security

In USAToday (9/26/07)[http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/travel/2007-09-25-behavior-detection_N.htm] there’s an interesting article on using nonverbal communication research to identify cues to deception and ultimately identify people who might be security risks at airports. The idea is that the security guards will be trained to detect deception—using the nonverbal research literature as a base—and then question those who look like they might be hiding something or about to do something harmful.
This has got to be one of the dumbest ideas that the Transportation Security Administration has come up with since 9/11/01. The reasons why this is dumb—some of which were discussed in the article—are many. Here are just a few:
1. We really don’t know enough about nonverbal communication cues to make such predictions. Many different feelings and intentions may be encoded nonverbally in the same way. You may, for example, avoid eye contact with security personnel because you’re up to no good and fear detection or because you’re shy and you normally avoid eye contact with strangers.
2. The research on deception detection has usually looked at deception during interactions, not while a person is standing in line or reading a newspaper. The assumption that the research from interactive studies can be applied to these “non-communication” type situations needs to be tested and supported before being applied.
3. The chances of making errors are great. People are going to be singled out and questioned because of their unconventional behavior, totally unrelated to terrorism (concern about a recent relationship breakup, worry over a sick relative, fear of flying—the possibilities are endless).
4. It will be virtually impossible to teach security personnel about the nonverbal messages that signal deception in the hundreds of cultures whose members pass through airports daily. First, because we don’t know what these are (at least not reliably) and second, because such training (even if we knew what to teach) would take forever.
5. If security personnel can identify the cues to deception then the people who would be terrorists could also identify them. And, once identified, they most likely can be masked. The facial management techniques that are discussed in most textbook chapters on nonverbal communication are just some ways to hide true emotions. And, even if the TSA tries to focus on unconscious nonverbal cues, they too can be masked.
6. The practice will likely degenerate into racial profiling since race may be the most obvious observable characteristic. The security officer is likely to focus first on those individuals who are of the suspected race—today, it’s Muslim-looking individuals—and then look for the nonverbal signals on the list of tell-tale signs. Not only is such racial profiling likely to be ineffective, it’s going to prove insulting to every other member of that particular racial group—today, it’s Muslims, estimated at close to one and a half billion people.
This is not to say that airports must not be kept safe. Of course, they have to be and here is the major problem that’s wrong with this method.
7. Relying on this method will likely divert attention and money away from discovering better and more reliable means for identifying suspected terrorists. The assumption will be that this method of nonverbal deception detection will work and they’ll be no need to pursue other means for securing the safety of everyone.

Training for Teens

Here is an interesting development I've been made aware of only recently. It's a plan to establish centers for teens to help them in a variety of ways. Here is just a little blurb with a link to more information. The possibilities for communication skills training seems a natural here.

O2 MAX does fitness training and nutrition counseling exclusively for teens. Next month they will open their first ‘fitness
hub’ at the Spectrum Club in Manhattan Beach, a pioneering break‐thru at the adults‐only facility. O2 MAX @ Spectrum
will be a “third space” destination for teens that combines fitness with key elements in their daily lives – music,
technology and social networking. In addition there will be a homework Lounge and onsite tutoring by The Princeton
Review. To learn more, visit the O2 MAX homepage at http://www.o2maxfitness.com.

ABCD: Theory

The term theory appears in just about every course you’ll take in college but is seldom clearly defined. In the popular sense, theory is used to refer to an idea or a way of looking at things and so you might say, “I have a theory about what went wrong”. Sometimes it’s used negatively to mean “not practical” or “useless” as in the expression, “It’s all theory.” In fact, a reviewer on Amazon.com comments that one of my books is “too much theory, not enough substance”. Although intended as a criticism, I took it as a compliment because theory is very substantive.
The term theory as used in academic disciplines such as communication, anthropology, and psychology refers to a general statement or principle—usually consisting of an organized collection of related specific statements—about the way things operate. In most academic writing, the term is usually reserved for a well-established system of knowledge about how things work or how things are related. It’s still fundamentally a generalization, but it’s often supported by research findings and other well-accepted theories. Here are some similar definitions; from the American Heritage Dictionary: “a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena,” “the branch of a science or art consisting of its explanatory statements, accepted principles, and methods of analysis;” and from the Philosophy Dictionary: “a way of looking at a field that is intended to have explanatory and predictive implications.” Isaac Asimov—perhaps more famous for his science fiction than his scholarly works—likened a theory to an argument; a theory is an argument—supported by research and evidence—for the way things will turn out.
Explanation and prediction—as in this last definition—are often used together. A theory should be able to explain how things work and if it’s successful then it’s likely that it will also be able to predict how things will work in the future.
Sometimes you’ll see the word hypothesis used instead of theory. Often, they’re used to mean similar things but generally hypothesis is more of a reasoned guess about something fairly specific whereas theory is more general and its predictions better supported or verified. Look at it this way: initial assumptions with some evidence become hypotheses which, when tested and supported by research and achieve success as explanations and predictions, become theories.
The theories you’ll encounter in college generally and in communication in particular try to explain how something works and to predict how things will work in the future. In physics, chemistry, and most of the hard sciences, the theories are very specific and yield very clear and reliable conclusions. In the social sciences such as communication, sociology, and psychology, for example, the theories are less clear and less reliable in their conclusions. Electricity and chemicals, for example, respond the same way every day. Humans, the subjects of the social sciences, don’t; there is enormous variation from one person to the next and hence theories about people’s behavior are much less clear and explicit than those you’ll encounter in the hard sciences.
In communication you’ll encounter such theories as how you accommodate your speaking style to your listeners, how communication works when relationships deteriorate, how friends self-disclose, how problem-solving groups communicate, how speakers influence audiences, and how the media affect people. As you can see from even these few examples, theories provide general principles that help you understand an enormous number of specific events.
One great value of communication theories is that they help you predict future events and ultimately provide the tools to control many of these events. For example, theories of persuasion will help you predict what kinds of emotional appeals will be most effective in persuading a specific audience and in that suggest what you should or should not do in using emotional appeals. Or theories of conflict resolution will enable you to predict what strategies would be effective or ineffective in resolving differences, suggesting that you use certain strategies and avoid others. Theories of interpersonal attraction offer insights into how to make yourself more attractive to others; theories of leadership offer practical advice on how you can more effectively exert your own leadership. Theories often have extremely practical and valuable implications.
And this connection between theory and practice brings up the issue of the relationship between theory and skills. Theories exist independently of skills; you can have a theory without a corresponding skill. On the other hand, some theories have practical implications for communication skills. As the above examples illustrate these range widely from persuading others to your point of view, to resolving conflicts effectively, to presenting a more attractive self to others, and to becoming a more effective leader. Skills that come from well-developed theories are usually the ones that will prove the most valuable and the most reliable. Ideally, the skills you come across in your textbook will have been based on well-developed theory and will have well-developed explanations of why one method of communication will yield positive results and another won’t. This interrelationship between theories and skills is a theme you’ll find throughout your study of communication. The more you know about how communication works (that is, the theories and research), the more likely you’ll be able to use it effectively (that is, build and enhance your communication skills).
Most departments of communication offer courses in theories of communication which you’re likely to find interesting and well as practical. Before signing up, however, take a look at some of the typical textbooks in communication theory which your college library is sure to have. Here are a few:
1. Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (2002). Questions of communication (3rd ed). New York: Bedford/St. Martins.
2. Baldwin, J. R., Perry, S. D., & Moffitt, M. A. (2004) Communication theories for everyday life. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
3. Dainton, M., & Zelley, E. D. (2005). Applying communciation theory for professional life: A practical introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
4. Griffin, E. (2006). A first look at communication theory (6th ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.
5. Infante, D.A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (2003). Building communication theory (4th ed). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
6. Littlejohn, S. W. & Foss, K. A. (2008). Theories of human communication (9th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
7. Miller, K. (2005). Communication theories: Perspectives, processes, and contexts (2nd ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.
8. Severin, W. J., & Tankard, J. W., Jr. (2001). Communication theories: Origins, methods, and use in the Mass Media (5th ed). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
9. West, R. L. & Turner, L. H. (2007). Introducing communciation theory: Analysis and applications (3rd ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.
10. Wood, J. J. (2004). Communication theories in action: An introduction (3rd ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.


Freedom of Speech (Again)

In today’s USAToday Abraham H. Foxman wants to prevent me and you from hearing certain messages, in this case those by Iranian President Ahmadinejad. But, tomorrow—and this is really the important point—it may be someone else’s messages and the next day someone else’s and on and on. This is an assault on freedom of speech and should not be tolerated. Also today, but in the New York Times, an ad by Freedom Watch Org, asks us to stand up for freedom and deny free speech to those with whom we disagree, again with special reference to President Ahmadinejad. How do we stand up for freedom and deny the right of free speech to those with whom we disagree? Why should Foxman or “Freedom Watch”—and a better example of Orwellian Newspeak would be difficult to find—tell me what messages I may or may not have access to. Why should we allow people like Foxman and Freedom Watch to make decisions for us? The principle of free speech must be upheld, regardless of how much we might disagree with the speaker or with the speaker’s message.

Freedom of Speech

Protests against free speech seem to be increasing. The current protests against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaking at the United Nations and at Columbia University is another example and offers us a good test of our own principles of communication and the ethical guidelines that we say should govern communication.
These protests contradict everything we teach in our classes and in our textbooks about giving people an honest hearing even when we disagree and being respectful of those with different (even distasteful) views. Regardless of what we may think of President Ahmadinejad, or of any others with points of view different (maybe drastically different) from our own, we need to hear what they have to say. We need to listen first, and then critically evaluate what they say. To assume that we know what they’re going to say is simply unproductive, as every textbook in communication points out in the chapter on listening.
We need to give even those who disagree with us, the same rights to free expression that we want for ourselves.
Protests against freedom of expression imply that we (the public) are not capable of critically evaluating information and coming to informed decisions. Those who protest would rather that they make up our minds for us and tell us what we can and what we cannot hear. And of course we need wonder, if such protests are effective, what other points of view will be denied freedom of speech.
What makes this situation even more important and potentially so damaging to our principles of free speech is that these protests are attacking freedom of expression in two of the most important arenas for free speech—the United Nations and the university. If we cannot have free speech here, there is little hope that we can have it anywhere.
The NCA Credo for Ethical Communication says: We endorse freedom of expression, diversity of perspective, and tolerance of dissent to achieve the informed and responsible decision making fundamental to a civil society. This is an important principle that needs to be recalled even when we disagree (perhaps especially when we disagree) with the person’s message.
Maybe it’s time for NCA (and ICA and ILA) to make these principles known more widely. This would be a perfect time to do so.


ABCD: Noise

My apologies if you arrived here seeking an audio summary of the chapters in The Interpersonal Communication Book, 13th edition. The QR code used by the publisher was incorrect and will, I’m told, be corrected in the next printing. In the meantime, you can go to www.mycommunicationlab.com to hear the summaries. Again, I apologize for this error.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the English word noise comes from the French nois which came from the Latin nausea, meaning “a feeling of sickness.” It seems that the word’s meaning generalized from a feeling of sickness (originally it referred to sea sickness particularly) to a general feeling of discomfort and then narrowed to the discomfort or disturbance brought about by excessive or unwanted sound.
In popular usage noise can refer to a wide variety of sounds, almost all of them unpleasant. You might, for example, describe annoying music, not as music but as noise. Sometimes noise is used to refer to messages that are unimportant or that can be disregarded as in “Don’t mind him; he’s just making noise.” And sometimes, it’s used to refer to a means of attracting attention as in “If you want their attention, you better make some noise.” It can also be used to allude to tentative intentions, as in “She’s making noises about finding another position.” At times, the word can even have a positive connotation as in “He was comforted by the noise from the rustle of the leaves.”
In communication, noise is generally defined as the interference that distorts the message a speaker sends to a listener. It’s a measure of the difference between the signal the speaker sends and the signal that the listener receives.
Generally when we think of noise we think of audible interference, for example, the roar of traffic, the neighbors’ blasting television, or the dog barking. We can consider these examples as noise because they can all interfere with the ability of a listener to hear what the speaker is saying. However, let’s say your dog was lost and you heard it barking. In this case, the barking would no longer be noise; it would not be the sounds that interfere with your receiving a message—it would be the very message you want to hear so you’d be able to locate your lost dog.
Because sounds can be both noise and not noise, it’s useful to distinguish between signal and noise. Signal refers to the messages you want to hear; noise refers to the messages you don’t want to hear, the messages that interfere with the messages you want to hear (i.e., the signals). For example, when you search the web for information, your search engine is likely to pull up a variety of websites that you’re not interested in along with those in which you are interested. The websites you’re not interested in may be considered noise; the websites you want may be viewed as signal.
From this distinction between signal and noise comes the signal-to-noise ratio, a measure of the amount of noise relative to the amount of signal. A web search that produces lots of desirable material (i.e., lots of signal) and little undesirable material (i.e., little noise) would be high in S/N ratio. A web search that produces more noise than signal would be low in S/N ratio. Looked at in this way, effective communication would be high in signal and low in noise; ineffective communication would be low in signal and high in noise.
Most often we think of noise as auditory; it refers to the airborne sounds that interfere with the airborne signal you want to hear. But the term—especially in communication—also refers to interference in writing. Misspellings, creases in the paper, pop-ups on your computer screen, spam, and just about any visual interference with the messages you want to receive would also be considered noise. Imperfections in digital images (red specks where there should be yellow, say) may also be considered noise.
In the Interpersonal Communication Book and Interpersonal Messages, I identify four kinds of noise. These four are probably not the only kinds of noise that could be identified and other classifications are certainly possible. But, for a broad understanding of this important concept, these four seem to work well.
1. Physical noise is the interference that occurs in the environment—the hum of a light fixture, passers-by talking on the phone, or birds chirping.
2. Physiological noise refers to barriers existing within the people communicating; for example, a hearing loss, impaired vision, or a cleft palate may all distort the auditory and/or visual signals.
3. Psychological noise refers to cognitive or mental interference such as a deep-seated prejudice that prevents the signals from being received as clearly as they might be. For example, the deeply prejudiced person might be rehearsing counter arguments and not fully hear or read the messages being sent.
4. Semantic noise occurs when the communicators don’t share the same meaning for the words used. Overly complex terms or dialectical variations in meaning can easily produce semantic noise.
One important additional point needs to be made here and that is that noise can never be eliminated entirely. There will always be some degree of noise in any and all forms of communication. You can’t eliminate it. But you can strive to reduce it. You can reduce physical noise by structuring the environment, closing the windows to block out noisy traffic or shutting off the television to reduce the competing messages. You can compensate for physiological noise by repeating your message, speaking at a higher volume, or avoiding covering your mouth when you talk so your lips can be read. You can reduce psychological noise by becoming aware of and combating your own biases and prejudices. And you can reduce semantic noise by asking questions when meanings are not clear or defining terms that you think your listener won’t understand. As you’ll see these suggestions are covered throughout your texts.
You can also view advances in communication technology as ways to lessen noise. Today’s search engines, for example, are much more efficient than were those popular 10 or 15 years ago; that is, they contain more signal and less noise. Fiber optic cables, to take another example, contain less noise than metal cables and therefore make communication easier and more pleasant. Technological advances in digital imaging enable artists to remove noise from graphic images. On the other hand, other technological advances have enabled advertisers to add noise to our systems in terms of pop-ups, spam, and animated advertisements on many web pages. In the same way, television shows regularly run ribbons at the bottom of the screen to provide a variety of messages and frequently use pop-ups to announce new shows. If you're interested in the current show, these pop-ups are noise; if you're interested in what's on next, then the pop-ups are signal.


The Interpersonal Communication Book

I'm beginning to revise The Interpersonal Communication Book for the 12th edition. If anyone has any comments or suggestions, please let me know. Are there topics not included that you feel should be? Are there topics that are included that you can just as easily do without? Are there features of the text that you particularly like? Are there features that you don't like? What worked well in your class? What didn't work well? In short, I'd appreciate any thoughts you'd care to share--from design to my coverage of theoretical issues or skills.

ABCD: Feedback

As an engineering term, feedback refers to that part of the output of a system that is returned to the source. Applied to human speech, feedback would refer to that part of your own utterances that are returned to you; these are the sounds you hear when you speak or the marks on paper or a computer screen that you see if you’re writing. This is what we call self-feedback, the part of the message that is returned to the self or sender of the message. On the basis of this feedback you may alter your message output. For example, if you hear yourself making a mistake in grammar or pronunciation, you might repeat the phrase correctly. If you hear yourself saying something that may be too harsh or may be taken in the wrong way, you might offer some kind of qualification—“I don’t mean to imply that you would ever pad your expense account but . . .”
There is, however, another kind of feedback and that is the feedback that you get from the other people involved in the communication act. The verbal comments (I don’t understand. You’re crazy; that never happened. You’re absolutely right about that.) as well as nonverbal comments (a frown, a smile, a wink, a turning away, a defensive posture, applause) that you get from others are all examples of feedback (for consistency, let’s call this other-feedback). On the basis of this feedback—just like on the basis of self-feedback—you adjust your messages, explaining further if the feedback tells you there’s a lack of understanding or offering further evidence (or another excuse) if the feedback tells you the person is not convinced or doesn’t believe you.
As you can appreciate, the ability to respond appropriately and effectively to feedback will make an enormous difference in communication effectiveness—often the difference between success and failure. The college instructor who is responsive to student feedback will be a much better teacher than the one who ignores it. The manager who is responsive to employee feedback will be a much better manager. And both teacher and manager will be more effective communicators for reading this feedback; they’ll be better able to adjust their messages, policies, and procedures to better fit their specific students and employees.
The ability to respond to feedback is especially important in interpersonal conflict situations. If you’re open and attentive to it, feedback will tell you, for example, when your words are being hurtful, when the conflict is about to get out of hand, and the strength of the other person’s feelings. On the basis of this feedback you’ll be better able to manage conflict so that it strengthens rather than destroys your relationship.
People who are in intimate relationships or who know each other for a long time are probably better able to read the other person’s feedback and come to know, on the basis of relatively few cues, how the person is feeling, when the person is worried, or what the person is thinking.
Of course, it’s not always easy to read feedback. Some cues are subtle and may not reveal clearly what the other person is thinking or feeling. In intercultural communication situations, the people may give very different meanings to their feedback cues. A Japanese businessperson may smile and say “yes” to your proposal, to communicate that he or she respects you and understands what you are proposing. But you, if you’re American, may read this as agreement with your proposal.
So, when possible, it’s helpful to check on the accuracy of your reading of the feedback. Depending on the feedback and your initial interpretation of it, you might say “Was that clear?” or “Don’t you agree?” or “You think that was a mistake?” Very likely the more you know the person, the more accurate your readings of his or her feedback will be. However, and this is a big however, it’s also likely that in intimate relationships, misreading feedback cues will have more serious consequences. If you misread your partner’s feedback, he or she may become resentful, feel you “just don’t understand,” or worse, feel that you don’t care enough.
Trial lawyers need to be expert at reading feedback, from the witnesses they are questioning to the jurors who must be convinced. The lawyer needs to know when a witness is hiding something or has more to say and needs to know when the jurors are not convinced or when they feel a line of questioning is boring. On the basis of this feedback, the effective lawyer will adjust future messages.
A performance appraisal in which a senior member of an organization interviews new employees after set periods of time (every three months, every year) is a good example of feedback. From this appraisal interview, the new worker will get feedback on his or her performance, ideally to improve. At the same time, the interviewer/manager will get valuable feedback on the way the company is perceived by a new employee or the problems new employees face, ideally to improve.

Types of Feedback

Most textbooks distinguish between positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback tells the speaker that what he or she is saying is acceptable; the implied meaning of that is “continue”. For example, periodic applause during a political speech supports what the speaker is saying and in a sense asks for more. When a lover smiles and looks longingly into your eyes he or she is saying “tell me more.”
Negative feedback, on the other hand, tells the speaker that something is wrong and that some adjustment in the message is needed, perhaps to add clarification, offer another explanation, or simply repeat the message. When students look puzzled, the effective instructor recognizes this and provides further explanation or perhaps restates the idea in different terms.
In addition to the distinction between positive and negative, I also find it useful to distinguish feedback on the basis of being person-focused or message-focused, immediate or delayed, low-monitored or high-monitored, and supportive or critical. Of course, these are extremes and are best visualized as continua.
• Person-Focused–Message-Focused. Feedback may center on the person (“You’re sweet,” “You’ve got a great smile”) or on the message (“Can you repeat that phone number?” “Your argument is a good one”).
• Immediate–Delayed. In interpersonal situations feedback is most often conveyed immediately after the message is received. In other communication situations, however, the feedback may be delayed; for example, feedback from an interview may come weeks after the interview took place. In media situations some feedback comes immediately—for example, through Nielsen ratings; other feedback comes much later, through consumers’ viewing and buying patterns.
• Low-Monitored–High-Monitored. Feedback varies from a spontaneous and totally honest reaction (low-monitored feedback) to a carefully constructed response designed to serve a specific purpose (high-monitored feedback). In most interpersonal situations you probably give feedback spontaneously; you allow your responses to show without any monitoring. At other times, however, you may be more guarded, as when your boss asks you how you like your job or when your grandmother asks what you think of her holiday fruitcake.
• Supportive–Critical. Supportive feedback confirms the worth of the person and what that person says; it occurs when, for example, you console another or when you encourage the other to talk; it often involves affirmation of the person’s self-definition. Critical feedback, on the other hand, is evaluative. When you give critical feedback you judge another’s performance—as in, for example, evaluating a speech or coaching someone learning a new skill.
I suspect that interpersonal relationships may be characterized by the types of feedback each person gives the other—a kind of “feedback theory of relationships.” Satisfying relationships seem to be those in which the feedback may be characterized as positive, person focused, immediate, low monitoring, and supportive. Unsatisfying relationships seem characterized by feedback that is negative, self-focused, nonimmediate, high monitoring, and critical.
Each feedback opportunity, then, presents you with choices along at least these five dimensions. To use feedback effectively you need to make educated choices along these dimensions. Of course, these categories are not exclusive. Feedback does not have to be either critical or supportive; it can be both. Thus, in teaching someone how to become a more effective interviewer, you might critically evaluate a specific interview but you might also express support for the effort. Similarly, you might respond to a friend’s question immediately and then after a day or two elaborate on your response.

Suggestions for Effective Feedback

Generally—and there are always exceptions that we need to keep in mind—here are some suggestions for making feedback more effective in both giving and receiving.

Giving Feedback
Consider these more in the nature of questions to think about rather than as specific rules that you should follow always and everywhere.
• Be specific; overly general or abstract thoughts are usually not helpful and just cause confusion. In criticizing a speech, it’s more effective to say “I wasn’t convinced by your example of the ants” than “your examples didn’t work.”
• Be positive; especially when your comments need to include negative evaluations, try to find something positive and perhaps lead with that.
• Be clear. You might also check to see if the other person understands you. Ask: Am I being clear? Does this make sense? If your feedback is worth giving, assume that it’s worth it for the other person to understand it as you mean it.
• Be honest; don’t give feedback that you don’t feel. It will make your subsequent feedback count for little once people see that you’re not honest with your reactions. This, of course, is not a license to be cruel but just a suggestion not to use feedback to deceive (much as you’d be advised not to use public speaking, say, to deceive).
• Be behavior focused. Generally, when making evaluations focus on the behavior rather than imply any motivation on the part of the other person. When criticizing a speech, for example, it’s more effective to say “I would prefer if you looked at your audience more directly” rather than implying motivation and saying, for example, “You weren’t interested enough in your audience; you never looked at us.” You really don’t know the motivation; it may have been fear rather than a lack of interest that lead to the lack of eye contact.

Responding to Feedback
The other half of this feedback skill is responding to it effectively. As you review these suggestions, consider the types of situations you might be in where you’d be receiving feedback. On the job at an appraisal interview or in a public speaking class, say, the feedback is likely to be fairly direct. So, you may wish to visualize one of these situations as you read the suggestions below. Here are a few suggestions, again, more in the nature of questions to consider:
• Avoid blocking out feedback that may appear negative. Listen openly. Feedback is probably the easiest way to learn more effective patterns of communication.
• See the feedback from the other person’s point of view. Don’t make excuses or think of reasons why the feedback-giver’s comments are irrelevant. Ask yourself why this person sees what he or she sees in your communications.
• Welcome the feedback, even the negative. Thank the person. Encourage the person to continue by being attentive, maintaining eye contact and a direct posture, and, in general, looking interested. If you don’t, you’ll only lose out on the useful information that feedback gives you.
• Seek clarification. If the feedback is not clear to you, ask for clarification while being especially careful not to appear defensive. If you do appear defensive, the feedback-giver may be less honest or less complete and you’ll again lose out on useful information.
• Evaluate the feedback. Only after you’ve fully understood the feedback should you attempt to evaluate it. So, think about the feedback fairly before accepting or rejecting it. If you decide that the feedback is useful, consider ways in which you can incorporate the suggestions into your own communication.


ABCD: Ethics

Ethics, also referred to as moral philosophy, is the study of morality, the study of good and bad, of right and wrong. It’s concerned with actions, with behaviors; it’s concerned with classifying and distinguishing between behaviors that are moral (ethical, good, right) and those that are immoral (unethical, bad, and wrong).
Before reading further about ethics, consider some of the popular beliefs about ethics, perhaps one or more of which you hold personally.
For each of the following statements place a T (for True) if you feel the statement accurately explains what ethical behavior is and an F (for False) if you feel the statement does not accurately explain what ethical behavior is.
_____ 1. My behavior is ethical when I feel (in my heart) that I’m doing the right thing.
_____ 2. My behavior is ethical when it is consistent with my religious beliefs.
_____ 3. My behavior is ethical when it is legal.
_____ 4. My behavior is ethical when the majority of reasonable people would consider it ethical.
_____ 5. My behavior is ethical when the effect of the behavior is more beneficial than harmful.
All five of these statements are (generally) False; none of them state a useful explanation of what is and what is not ethical.
(1) Statement 1 is False simply because people often do unethical things they feel are morally justified. Jack the Ripper killing prostitutes is a good historical example but there are many current ones such as stalking (I’m so in love I need to be with this person) or insurance scams (My family needs the money more than the insurance company). Even though Jack, the stalker, and the scam artist may feel justified in their own minds, it doesn’t make the behavior moral or ethical.
(2) Statement 2 must be False when you realize that different religions advocate very different kinds of behavior, often behaviors that contradict one another. Examples abound in almost every issue of a daily newspaper.
(3) Statement 3 must be false when you realize so much discrimination against certain people is perfectly legal in many parts of the world, and, in many countries, war (even preemptive war) is legal.
(4) Statement 4 is False because the thinking of the majority changes with the times and has often proven to be extremely immoral. The burning of people supposed to be witches or of those who spoke out against majority opinion (as in the Inquisition) are good examples.
(5) Statement 5 comes the closest to being possibly and sometimes true; but it’s more generally false. The reason it’s more false than true is that the burning of witches, for example, was in the interest of the majority as was slavery and discrimination against gay men and lesbians. But, despite this majority interest, we’d readily recognize these actions as immoral. On the other hand, in deciding whether to do one thing or another, it may prove useful to weigh the good against the bad that would result from each action.
BTW, I got the idea for this self-test after reading “What Is Ethics?” (www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/decision/whatisethics.html) and think these 5 statements would make for great discussion in small groups or with the class as a whole.

Three Areas of Ethics

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(www.iep.utm.edu/e/ethics.htm) the field of ethics consists of three areas:
• Metaethics concerns itself with the origin and meaning of ethical principles—where they come from (God? Social conventions? Cultural norms?) and the meanings of various ethical concepts (What is responsibility? What is right? What is wrong?).
• Normative ethics concerns itself with articulating the standards of right and wrong; this is the area that proposes specific ethical principles (for example, don’t lie, don’t willfully hurt another person). It is from normative ethics that we learn the principles governing what is ethical and what is unethical.
• Applied ethics concerns itself with the ethical implications of controversial issues (Is capital punishment ethical? Is preventing marriage to same sex couples ethical? Is it ethical to engage in war?).
These three areas often intersect. For example, the ethics of capital punishment is clearly applied ethics since it focuses on a controversial issue but it also draws on the insights of metaethics (Where do the rights to kill another person come from? Who has the right to kill another human being?) and on normative ethics (By what standard does one person claim the right to kill another person? Under what conditions might it be justifiable to kill another person?)

Two Approaches to Ethics

So, when is behavior ethical and when is it unethical? Lots of people have come up with lots of theories.
If you take an objective view, you’d claim that the ethical nature of an act—any act—depends on standards that apply to all people in all situations at all times. If lying, advertising falsely, using illegally obtained evidence, and revealing secrets, for example, are considered unethical, then they’d be considered unethical regardless of the circumstances surrounding them or of the values and beliefs of the culture in which they occur.
If you take a subjective view, you’d claim that the morality of an act depends on a specific culture’s values and beliefs as well as on the particular circumstances. Thus, from a subjective position you would claim that the end might justify the means—a good result can justify the use of unethical means to achieve that result. You would further argue that lying is wrong to win votes or to sell cigarettes, but that lying can be ethical if the end result is positive (such as trying to make someone who is unattractive feel better by telling them they look great, or telling a critically ill person that they’ll feel better soon.)
Each field of study defines what is and what is not ethical to its concerns (in the normative ethical sense). Here are just a few to highlight some communication-oriented codes as well as a few to indicate the range of associations that developed and, in some cases, enforce such codes:
• The National Communication Association Ethical Credo (www.natcom.org)
• Bloggers’ Ethics (www.cyberjouranlist.net/news/000215.php)
• Online Journalism (www.ojr.org/ojr/wiki/Ethics/print.htm)
• Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (www.rtndf.org./ethics/coe.html)
• National Education Association Code of Ethics for the Education Profession (www.nea.org/aboutnea/code/html)
• American Medial Association Principles of Medical Ethics (www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category)
• Merrill Lynch’s Code of Ethics for Financial Professionals (www.ml.com/cms/templates/so)
Try looking up the code of ethics for the profession you’re in or planning on entering.