I was recently reminded of a great example of euphemism designed to hide the truth, minimize the negative, and give something negative a positive spin(thanks to a NYTimes voicer): Vice-president Dick Cheney’s reference to waterboarding—a torture tactic almost universally condemned—as a “dunk in the water.”
Example is always more efficacious than precept.--Samuel Johnson


Comm Talk

Pearson Education has recently published Comm Talk: A Tool for Communication Education. This newsletter has recently gone online. It contains brief articles—mainly by Pearson textbook authors (myself included)—on various aspects of communication. My own little (one-page) piece, Little Words Mean A Lot,” gets its title from a 1954 Kitty Kallen song, Little Things Mean A Lot.
BTW, the editors ask:
“What unique strategy do you employ with your students to ensure that they have gotten your message? Beyond quizzes, asking questions, and nodding heads, what other things do you do in class to confirm that your students are learning the material?
Send your responses to communication@pearson.com by January 1, 2009 and we’ll share ideas on this topic and your responses to this question in our next issue.”


The Nonverbal Message of RED

Consider adding this to the discussion of color communication:

A recent study published in the November 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95—(available online at http://psycnet.apa.org), by Andrew Elliot and Daniela Niesta finds that men view women as more desirable and more attractive when they’re wearing red than other colors. This attraction of red seems to operate below the level of conscious awareness and doesn’t seem to influence women’s attraction to men or to other women.


Here is a great tool for teaching public speaking, interpersonal communication, interviewing, small group communication, and probably a lot more. It’s a video website (www.videosurf.com) that will enable you to locate videos of speakers, television shows, news programs, and just about anything for which there’s a video. The site provides an easy way to locate just the clip you want (and may wish to assign for class discussion). It's still in beta but definitely worth a close look.



I just learned--thanks to USAToday that today--November 28th--is the first annual National Day of Listening!


The Holiday Letter

The holidays are upon us and many will send out letters along with cards detailing the events of the year for those they really don’t communicate with on a regular basis. Although many find these letters annoying, they serve some useful purpose in maintaining contact and in letting these people know how and what you’re doing. It keeps the doors for future communication open. Here are some suggestions, interpreted, modified, and adapted from an unlikely source (Better Homes and Gardens, December, 2008, pp. 218-220):
1. Keep it short. BHG recommends one page but two or even three pages, if well written and interesting, should not create a problem. After all, no one has to read it.
2. Hit the highlights; this is not the place for excruciating details. In fact, what you leave out is just as important as what you put in (well, perhaps almost).
3. BHG suggests adding humor. This is generally a good suggestion, which we also make in our public speaking books, but some people are just not funny. So, if you can be humorous, that’s fine; if you can’t, don’t.
4. Keep the bragging to a minimum. BHG recommends that if you’re going to brag that you use some kind of feedforward, e.g., “Let me boast for just a minute.” A kind of disclaimer. Treating accomplishments objectively and as a matter of fact is another way of doing this—“My new novel is going to be made into a movie. I’m looking forward to it; it should be exciting.” And then move on to other things. Avoiding all the good things—in an effort not to brag—is probably going to make for a boring letter and it’s probably not you. I think the best advice here is to be modest but truthful to who you are.
5. Keep it positive (generally). You don’t have to eliminate any sad news—after all, that would be dishonest and inconsistent with the purpose of these letters—but the general tone should be upbeat.
6. Personalize it in some way by, for example, writing a brief note that (ideally) connects you and the other person, “this family trip reminded me of when we went to Colorado on Spring break.”
7. Go creative. Draw pictures, scan photos, use varied type faces, use color. What you say is still more important than its package but its package is what will get it read or thrown into the trash.
8. Proofread. Use spell and grammar checks.
9. Write as you speak. This is one of the instances, I think, where it’s nice to be able to hear the person as you read the letter.
10. BHG suggests that you consider including something about the season—how you’re spending the holidays, for example. Not a bad idea, but keep the main purpose--to talk about the year—in mind.
Happy holidays!


Gender Gap

Here's an interesting report on the gender gap. Interestingly enough, the United States ranked 27th--behind such countries as Germany, France, Britain, Lesotho, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, and Cuba. Not surprisingly, Norway, Finland, and Sweden were ranked at the top, having the greatest sexual equality.


College student survey

Take a look at some of the results of the survey of 722 4-year colleges and universities and some 380,000 students at http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-11-10-nsseonline_what-is-nsse_N.htm. This article is titled "College students 'get away with' poor preparation" but the report actually contains some very positive findings.

Proposition 8 and the Power of Lies and Misinformation

As an addendum to the post on lying take a look at Brian Normoyle's article on the Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-normoyle/prop-8-makes-wrong-kind-o_b_142879.html. Normoyle details the stupidity of passing Proposition 8 better than I can so I recommend his article. Clearly, Californians need some training in critical thinking and lie detection.
And it was nice to hear the Terminator say "It's the same as in the 1948 case when blacks and whites were not allowed to marry. This falls into the same category."



Note: In The Interpersonal Communication Book and Interpersonal Messages, I only touch on lying. It needs more attention and so I wrote this for the next edition of Interpersonal Messages and thought it might be of value to those using either of these interpersonal texts--or any others, of course.

Messages Can Deceive

It comes as no surprise that some messages are truthful and some are deceptive. Although we operate in interpersonal communication on the assumption that people tell the truth, some people do lie. In fact, many view lying as quite common whether in politics, business, or interpersonal relationships (Knapp, 2008; Amble, 2005). Lying also begets lying; when one person lies, the likelihood of the other person lying increases (Tyler, Feldman, Reichert, 2006). Furthermore, people like people who tell the truth more than they like people who lie. So, lying needs to be given some attention in any consideration of interpersonal communication.
Lying refers to the act of (1) sending messages (2) with the intention of giving another person information you believe to be false.
• Lying involves some kind of verbal and/or nonverbal message sending (and remember even the absence of facial expression or the absence of any verbal comment also communicates); it also requires reception by another person.
• The message must be sent to intentionally deceive. If you give false information to someone but you believe it to be true, then you haven’t lied. You do lie when you send information that you believe to be untrue and you intend to mislead the other person.
Not surprisingly, cultural differences exist with lying—in the way lying is defined and in the way lying is treated. For example, as children get older, Chinese and Taiwanese (but not Canadians) see lying about the good deeds that they do as positive (as we’d expect for cultures that emphasize modesty) but taking credit for these same good deeds is seen negatively (Lee, et al, 2001).
Some cultures consider lying to be more important than others—in one study, for example, European Americans considered lies less negatively than did Ecuadorians. Both, however, felt that lying to an outgroup was more acceptable than lying to members of the ingroup (Mealy, Stephan, & Urrutia, 2007).

The Types of Lies

Lies vary greatly in type; each lie seems a bit different from every other lie. Here is one useful system that classifies lies into four types (McGinley, 2001).

Pro-social Deception: To Achieve Some Good
These are lies that are designed to benefit the person lied to or lied about. For example, praising a person’s effort to give him or her more confidence or to tell someone they look great to simply make them feel good would be examples of pro-social lies.
Many of a culture’s myths are taught through what would normally be considered pro-social lies; for example, adults teach children about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. The theory, it would seem, is that these beliefs somehow benefit the child.
Some pro-social lies are expected and to not lie would be considered impolite. For example, it would be impolite to tell parents that their child is ugly (even if you firmly believe that the child is in fact ugly). The only polite course is to lie.
Still another type of pro-social lie is when you lie to someone who would harm others. So, you’d lie to an enemy or to someone intending to hurt another person. These lies too would be expected and to not lie would likely brand you as contributing to any harm done as a result of your telling the truth.
Not surprisingly children learn pro-social lying early in life and it remains the major type of lie children (and likely adults as well) tell (McGinley, 2001).

Self-Enhancement Deception: To Make Yourself Look Good
Not all self-enhancement involves deception. For example, the impression management strategies discussed earlier (pp. 00-00) may be used to simply highlight what is already true about you but that others may not see at first glance. And so, you might mention your accomplishments to establish your credibility. If these accomplishments are true, then this impression management effort is not deception.
At the same time, however, each of the impression management strategies may also involve self-enhancement deception. So, for example, you might mention your good grades but omit the poorer ones or you might recount you generous acts and omit any selfish ones or you might embellish or fabricate your competence, lie about your financial situation, or present yourself as a lot more successful than you really are.

Selfish Deception: To Protect Yourself
These lies are designed to protect yourself. Sometimes it’s something as simple as not answering the phone because you want some to do something else. In this case, no one really gets hurt. But, some selfish deception strategies may involve hurting others, for example, you might imply that you did most of the work for the report—protecting yourself but also hurting the reputation of your colleague. Or you might conceal certain facts to protect yourself—previous failed relationships, an unsavory family history, or being fired. Hiding an extra-relational affair is perhaps the classic example of selfish deception.
Sometimes selfish deception is designed to protect the relationship and so, for example, you might lie about a one-time infidelity to both protect yourself (and perhaps your partner as well) but also to protect and maintain the relationship.

Anti-social Deception: To Harm Someone
These lies are designed to hurt another person. For example, such lies might include spreading false rumors about someone you dislike or falsely accusing an opposing candidate of some wrongdoing (something you see regularly in political debates). Fighting parents may falsely accuse each other of a variety of wrongdoing to gain the affection and loyalty of the child. Falsely accusing another person of a wrong you did yourself would be perhaps the clearest example of anti-social deception.

How People Lie

As you can imagine people lie in various ways. One common deceptive message is the exaggeration where you, for example, lead people to believe that, for example, you earn more money than you do or that your grades are better than they are, or that your relationship is more satisfying than it really is.
Another deceptive message is the minimization. Instead of exaggerating the facts, here you minimize them. You can minimize your lack of money (we have more than enough), the importance of poor grades, or your relationship dissatisfaction.
Another common deceptive message is the simple substitution where you exchange the truth for a lie—for example, I wasn’t at the bar, I stopped in at Starbucks for coffee.
Still another is equivocation or being ambiguous and leading people to think something different from your intention. That outfit really is something, very interesting instead of Ugh!
And of course you can lie by omission, by not sending certain messages. So, when asked where did you go by your romantic partner, you might omit those things your partner would frown on and just include the positives.

The Behavior of Liars

One of the more interesting questions about lying is how do liars act. Do they act differently from those telling the truth? And, if they do act differently, how can we tell when someone is lying to us? These questions are not easy to answer and we are far from having complete answers to such questions. But, we have learned a great deal.
For example, after an examination of 120 research studies, the following behaviors were found to most often accompany lying DePaulo et al (2003).
1. Liars hold back. They speak more slowly (perhaps to monitor what they’re saying), take longer to respond to questions (again, perhaps monitoring their messages), and generally give less information and elaboration.
2. Liars make less sense. Liar’s messages contain more discrepancies; more inconsistencies.
3. Liars give a more negative impression. Generally, liars are seen as less willing to be cooperative, smile less than truth-tellers, and are more defensive.
4. Liars are tense. The tension may be revealed by their higher pitched voices and their excessive body movements.
It is very difficult to detect when a person is lying and when telling the truth. The hundreds of research studies conducted on this topic find that in most instances people judge lying accurately in less than 60% of the cases, only slightly better than chance (Knapp, 2008).
And there is some evidence to show that lie detection is even more difficult (that is, less accurate) in long-standing romantic relationships—the very relationships in which the most significant lying occurs (Guerrero, Andersen, & Afifi, 2007). One of the most important reasons for this is the truth bias. In most situations we assume that the person is telling the truth; as noted earlier in this chapter, we normally operate under the quality principle which assumes that what a person says is the truth. This truth bias is especially strong in long-term relationships where it’s simply expected that each person tells the truth. There are situations where there is a lie bias. For example, in prison where lying is so prevalent and where lie detection is a crucial survival skill, prisoners often operate with a lie bias and assume that what the speaker is saying is a lie (Knapp, 2008).
A related reason is that because of the truth bias, you may unconsciously avoid cues to lying in close relationships that you might easily notice at work, for example, simply as a kind of self-protection. After all, you wouldn’t want to think that your long-term relationship partner would lie to you.
Another reason that makes lie detection so difficult in close relationships is that the liar knows how to lie largely because he or she knows how you think and can therefore tailor lies that you’ll fall for. And, of course, the liar often has considerable time to rehearse the lie which generally makes lying more effective (that is, less easy to detect).
Nevertheless, there are some communication factors that seem to be more often associated with lying (Andersen, 2004; Leathers & Eaves, 2008). None of these, taken alone or in a group, is proof that a person is lying. Liars can be especially adept at learning to hide any signs that they might be lying. Nor is an absence of these features proof that the person is telling the truth. Generally, however, liars exhibit:
• greater pupil dilation and more eye blinks; more gaze aversion
• higher vocal pitch; voices sound as if they were under stress
• more errors and hesitations in their speech; they pause more and for longer periods of time;
• more hand, leg, and foot movements
• more self-touching movements, for example, touching their face or hair, and more object touching, for example, playing with a coffee cup or pen
In detecting lying be especially careful that you formulate any conclusions with a clear understanding that you can be wrong and that accusations of lying (especially when untrue but even when true) can often damage a relationship to the point where you may not be able to repair it. In addition keep in mind all the cautions and potential errors in perception discussed earlier; after all, lie detection is a part of person perception.

Ethical Messages
Not surprisingly, lies have ethical implications. In fact, one of the earliest cultural rules children are taught that lying is wrong. At the same time, children also learn that in some cases lying is effective—in gaining some reward or in avoiding some punishment.
Some pro-social, self-enhancement, and selfish deception lies are considered ethical (for example, publicly agreeing with someone you really disagree with to enable the person to save face or saying that someone will get well despite medical evidence to the contrary or simply bragging about your accomplishments). Some lies are considered not only ethical but required (for example, lying to protect someone from harm or telling the proud parents that their child is beautiful). Other lies (largely those in the anti-social category) are considered unethical (for example, lying to defraud investors or to falsely accuse someone).
However, a large group of lies are not that easy to classify as ethical or unethical. For example:
• Is it ethical to lie to get what you deserved but couldn’t get any other way? For example, would you lie to get a well-earned promotion or raise? Would it matter if you hurt a colleague’s chances of advancement in the process?
• Is it ethical to lie to your relationship partner to avoid a conflict and perhaps splitting up? In this situation would it be ethical to lie if the issue was a minor one (you were late for an appointment because you wanted to see the end of the football game) or a major one (say, continued infidelity)?
• Is it ethical to lie to get yourself out of an unpleasant situation? For example, would you lie to get out of an unwanted date, an extra office chore, or a boring conversation?
• Is it ethical to lie about the reasons for breaking up a relationship to make it easier for you and the other person? For example, would you conceal that you’ve fallen in love with another person (or that you’re simply bored with the relationship or that the physical attraction is gone) in your breakup speech?
• Is it ethical to exaggerate the consequences of an act in order to discourage it? For example, would you lie about the bad effects of marijuana in order to prevent your children or your students from using it?
• Is it ethical to lie about yourself in order to appear more appealing—for example, saying you were younger or richer or more honest than you really are? For example, would you lie in your profile on Facebook or MySpace or one a dating website to increase your chances of meeting someone really special?


Conversational Skills

Here's a new way of analyzing conversation and ulimately teaching conversational skills. Amazing!


Public Speaking

Here's an article on the teaching of public speaking and interviewing--very unlike anything we teach or write about in our textbooks.


Presidential Debates

Watching the presidential debates and especially the fact-checking segments that followed on some stations, it occurred to me that a somewhat different format might be helpful. How would it work if the candidates (1) were each asked a question by the moderator, (2) each answered the question, (3) fact checkers then responded to what the candidates said, and (4) the candidates responded to the fact checkers. Then another question would be asked, answered, fact-checked, and responded to by the candidates. And so on. While this might take a bit longer, it would force the candidates to give more attention to the accuracy of their statements and would surely elevate the level of political discourse.
The current debate format actually encourages the candidates to make statements that are only partially true (or completely false) simply because there is no face-to-face confrontation over their exaggerations and, yes, even lies. Candidates need to be held accountable for their statements—directly and in full view of the voters.

The Tyranny of Politeness

Politeness is a great thing and not surprisingly is considered a desirable trait across most cultures. It greases the wheels of communication and makes everyone feel more valued and more respected. But, there comes a time when politeness becomes tyrannical. A case in point: When Barack Obama was asked in the third and final debate if Sarah Palin was qualified to be President of the United States he did not say “no”. Instead he spoke around the issue, even complimenting Palin on various qualities. So, what are we the viewers to conclude? Does Obama think Palin is qualified (but didn’t say it directly because he didn’t want to build her credibility) or does he think she is not qualified (and he was just being polite)? With such indirectness, it’s impossible to tell. And very likely each person—depending on his or her political beliefs—will conclude something different. Isn’t the Presidency of the United States important enough to give direct (and yes, even impolite answers) to a question that can have world wide implications? At what point is this brand of politeness equivalent to lying? At what point is such indirectness unethical? The problem, of course, is that Obama had no choice; he was forced by the culture of politeness to use indirection and avoid attacking Palin’s positive face.
Politeness is a great thing, but when issues are as important as the Presidency of the United States, it seems a little less politeness and a little more directness would help.


The Compliment

A compliment is a message of praise, flattery, or congratulations. It’s the opposite of criticism, insult, or complaint. Usually, it occurs in an interpersonal situation but it can occur in group situations, in public speaking situations, and of course in the media, where talk shows are often one compliment after another.
The compliment functions like a kind of communication glue; it’s a way of relating to another person with positiveness and immediacy. It’s also a conversation starter, “I like your watch; may I ask where you got it?” Another purpose the compliment serves is to encourage the other person to compliment you—even if not immediately (which often seems inappropriate).
Compliments can be unqualified or qualified. The unqualified compliment is a message that is purely positive. “Your paper was just great, an A.” The qualified message is positive but with some negativity thrown in: “Your paper was great, an A; if not for a few problems, it would have been an A+”. You might also give a qualified compliment by qualifying your own competence; for example, “That song you wrote sounded great, but I really don’t know anything about music.”
A “backhanded compliment” is really not a compliment at all; it’s usually an insult masquerading as a compliment. For example, you might give a backhanded compliment if you say “That sweater takes away from your pale complexion; it makes you look less washed out” (it compliments the color of the sweater but criticizes the person’s complexion) or “Looks like you’ve finally lost a few pounds, am I right?” (it compliments a slimmer appearance but points out the person’s being overweight) or “That’s great; you finally passed your driver’s test” (it compliments the successful passing but the “finally” adds criticism) or “Your hair looks very natural; you’d hardly know it was dyed (it compliments the natural look but the “hardly” takes back the compliment).
Compliments are sometimes difficult to express and even more difficult to respond to without discomfort or embarrassment. Fortunately, there are easy-to-follow guidelines. Let’s consider first, some suggestions for giving compliments.

Giving a Compliment

Here are a few suggestions for giving a compliment.
• Be real and honest. Say what you mean and omit giving compliments you don’t believe in. They’ll likely sound insincere and won’t serve any useful purpose.
• Compliment in moderation. A compliment that is too extreme (say, for example, “that’s the best decorated apartment I’ve ever seen in my life”) may be viewed as dishonest. Similarly, don’t compliment at every possible occasion; if you do, your compliments will seem too easy to win and not really meaningful.
• Be totally complimentary; avoid qualifying your compliments. If you hear yourself giving a compliment and then adding a “but” or a “however” be careful; you’re likely going to qualify your compliment. Unfortunately, in such situations many people will remember the qualification rather than the compliment and the entire compliment-plus-qualification will appear as a criticism.
• Be specific. Direct your compliment at something specific rather than something general. Instead of saying something general such as, “I liked your speech” you might say something more specific such as “I liked your speech—the introduction gained my attention immediately and you held it throughout.”
• Be personal in your own feelings—“your song really moved me; it made me recall so many good times”—but not personal about the other person—“your hair looks so natural; is that a weave?” At the same time, avoid any compliment that can be misinterpreted as overly sexual.
• Some interpersonal watchers recommend that you compliment people for their accomplishments rather than for who they are or for things over which they have no control. So, for example, you would compliment people for their clear reports, their poetry, their problem solving, their tact, and so on. But, so goes this advice, you would not compliment someone for being attractive or having beautiful green eyes.

Receiving a Compliment

In receiving a compliment, people generally take either one of two options: denial or acceptance.
Many people deny the compliment (“It’s nice of you to say, but I know I was terrible”), minimize it (“It isn’t like I wrote the great American novel; it was just an article that no one will read”), change the subject (“So, where should be go for dinner?”), or say nothing. Each of these responses creates problems. When you deny the legitimacy of the compliment you’re implying (at least in part) that the person isn’t being sincere or doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. When you minimize it, you imply, in effect that the person doesn’t understand what you’ve done or what he or she is complimenting. When you change the subject or say nothing, again, you’re saying in effect that the compliment isn’t having any effect; you’re ignoring it because it isn’t meaningful.
Some people deny the compliment because they’re embarrassed, generally feeling “I’m not worth that kind of praise”. Or, they’re shy or apprehensive and they don’t want attention brought to themselves. These are uncomfortable situations and are likely to be helped by understanding a few simple principles about accepting the compliment, clearly the better alternative.
An acceptance might consist simply of (1) a smile with eye contact—avoid looking at the floor; (2) a simple “thank you,” and, if appropriate (3) a personal reflection where you explain (very briefly) the meaning of the compliment and why it’s important to you (for example, “I really appreciate your comments; I worked really hard on the project and it’s great to hear it was effective”). Depending on your relationship with the person, you might use their name; people like to hear their name spoken and doubly so when it’s associate with a compliment: “That was a great report, Mary, you really nailed it.”
Here is a simple exercise that will illustrate that the common compliment which many think such a natural and easy type of communication, isn’t so simple. This may be more easily illustrated if the exercise is used before any discussion of the compliment.
The exercise is in two parts and simply consists in the giving and responding to a compliment. First, form a dyad with someone you don’t know well and compliment the person’s reliability, intelligence, sense of style, fair mindedness, independence, perceptiveness, warmth, or sense of humor. [You’ll have to make up something since you really don’t know the person.] Second, the other person should respond to the compliment. Then reverse roles where the “complimenter” becomes the “complimented” and vice versa.
One variation is to focus on inappropriate or backhanded compliments and the appropriate responses to them. Other variations are to team people from obviously different cultures or to set up some same-sex and some opposite sex pairings.


Advice Giving

Everyone loves to give advice. Somehow it makes you seem important; after all, if you can give someone else advice, you must be pretty clever. In some cases, of course, advice giving may be part of your job description. For example, if you’re a teacher, lawyer, health care provider, religious leader, or psychiatrist, you are in the advice giving business. And if you give advice that is found useful and consistently effective, you’ll develop a reputation and get lots of business; if your advice is useless and consistently ineffective, you’ll be out of business in short order.
In a somewhat similar way, relatives and friends are also in the advice giving business. And, it’s widely reported, men are more into advice giving than are women. In fact, one of the frequent complaints about men, from women, is that instead of supportively listening to them, they immediately jump to advising; they want to solve the problem.

Advice and Meta-Advice

Advice is best viewed as a process of giving another person a suggestion for thinking or behaving, usually to change their thinking or ways of behaving. In many ways, you can look at it as a suggestion to solve a problem. So, for example, you might advise friends to change their way of looking at broken love affairs or their financial situation or their career path. Or, you might advise someone to do something, to behave in a certain way, for example, to start dating again or to invest in certain stocks or to go back to school and take certain courses. Sometimes, the advice is to continue what the person is currently thinking or doing, for example, to stay with Pat despite the difficulties or to hold the stocks the person already has or to continue on his or her current career path.
One of the most important types of advice, though noted nowhere in the literature on advice that I’ve examined, is meta-advice. The prefix meta- can mean a variety of things but as used in communication, philosophy, and psychology it’s meaning is best translated as about. Thus, metacommunication is communication about communication, metalanguage is language about language, and, in this new coinage, meta-advice is advice about advice. Look at it this way. You can give advice to a person that addresses the problem or issue directly—buy that condo, take this course, or vacation in Hawaii. We can call this object advice (on the analogy of the linguistic distinction between metalanguage and object language). And, you can also give meta-advice, advice about advice. At least three types of meta-advice can be identified.
• To explore options and choices. When confronted with a request for advice, this meta-advice would focus on helping the person explore the available options. For example, if a friend asks what he or she should do about never having a date, you might give meta-advice and help your friend explore the available options and the advantages and disadvantages (the rewards and the costs) of each.
• To seek expert advice. If confronted with a request for advice concerning some technical issue in which you have no competence, the best advice is often meta-advice, in this case, to seek advice from someone who is an expert in the field. When a friend asks what to do about a persistent cough, the best advice seems to be the meta-advice to “talk to your doctor.”
• To delay decision. If confronted with a request for advice about a decision that doesn’t have to be made immediately, one form of meta-advice would be to delay the decision while additional information is collected. So, for example, if your advice-seeking has two weeks to decide on a whether or not to take a job with XYZ Company, meta-advice would suggest that the decision be delayed while the company is researched more thoroughly.
As you can appreciate, meta-advice is one of the safest types of advice to give. When you meta-advise to explore options more thoroughly, you’re not so much giving advice as you are helping the advice-seeking to collect the information needed to make his or her own decision. When you suggest that the advice-seeker consult an expert, you’re shifting the advice-giving from yourself to someone else. And so, in some ways, it may be seen as a coward’s way out; it’s a way of avoiding taking a position on something that is very important to a person who is close to you. Yet, there seems little logic in giving advice on matters in which you are not an expert. When you meta-advise to delay the decision, you’re again not offering specific advice on the issue but enabling the person to have the opportunity to secure additional and, hopefully, relevant information.

Why People Seek Advice

Sometimes, people seek advice because they’re in situations of doubt or indecision (especially important decisions) and so they seek out someone they think might have something useful to say. The greater the indecision and the more important the decision, the more likely are people to seek advice.
Sometimes people seek advice to avoid personal responsibility. So, for example, one spouse may say to the other, “I really don’t know what to do with this bonus money. What do you think?” And, assuming the suggestion is followed, the advice seeking spouse can then blame the other for “deciding” what to do with the extra money. Parents who absolve themselves of advising their child about what college to go to may also fall into this don’t-blame-me class.
Some people are simply advice seekers. It seems reasonable to expect people who lack self-confidence and self-esteem to more actively seek advice than people who are high in these qualities. At the same time, however, people who are logical and reasonable might seek advice from persons who are more expert more often than those who are less logical but think they know it all.
Sometimes, advice seeking is used as an ingratiation strategy. Saying, for example, “I know you know a great deal about finances—you’re like a genius. Would you mind looking over my income tax statement?” likely makes the potential advice giver feel good about himself or herself, more positively toward the advice seeker, and, most important, more likely to comply with the request to review the income tax statement.

The Advice Giver

Generally, advice seekers don’t go to just anyone for advice. Rather, they seek advice from certain people and avoid seeking advice from others. So, what kinds of people would you be most likely to for advice? What special qualities do such people possess?
One obvious quality is expert power—the power that a person has who is perceived to be knowledgeable. Usually this is subject specific. A doctor is an expert on matters of the body but you wouldn’t go to a doctor for financial advice and you wouldn’t go to a financial advisor for advice about your health. Expert power is especially influential when the person is seen as unbiased and not having anything to gain from the advice given. The real estate agent that advises you to buy the condo because the prices will increase shortly may be seen to have something to gain from the advice and so you may discount or discredit to some degree the advice (which may or may not be reliable).
Another type of power contributing to the likelihood of being asked for advice is information power. You’re perceived to have information power if you are seen as having the ability to effectively present information and sound argument. Expert power (the knowledge) and information power (the ability to make an effective presentation of that knowledge) are often combined and make you feel comfortable asking such a person for advice. And if this person has succeeded in giving good advice (or has a reputation for offering wise counsel) your comfort level is likely to be even greater.
Depending on the type of advice you’re seeking, you might look for an advice-giver who has had similar experiences to yours. A new teacher might ask a more seasoned one for advice on dealing with the principal or parents or students. A new prisoner might seek the advice of a cellmate as to ways of making life easier, getting out of the laundry room, or dealing with the guards. A newly divorced person might seek the advice of other divorced persons or may even join a support group. In these cases, the advice giver serves as a kind of mentor and the advice giving and seeking may become on-going.
In relationship matters, you would likely seek advice from someone who is supportive and caring and who you feel likes you and who will look out for your well-being. And so you might seek advice from relatives and close friends but seldom from strangers. The exception here is in seeking professional advice; you may not know a therapist but you might seek such advice nevertheless. And, of course, you’re almost always assured of a supportive atmosphere.

Giving and Receiving Advice

Here are just a few suggestions for both giving and receiving advice. The objective here is to make the process less uncomfortable, more productive, and more polite.

Giving Advice

In addition to giving meta-advice, there is also the option of giving specific advice. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Listen. This is the first rule for advice giving. Listen to the person’s thoughts and feelings. Listen to what the person wants—the person may actually not want advice even if he or she says, for example, “I just don’t know what to do.” This may be a request for support and active listening and not a request for advice. Or the person may simply want to ventilate in the presence of a friend. Or the person has really already made the decision but is just seeking confirmation. Or the person is looking for praise by saying “What do you think I can do to make the room look better?” and is expecting the response to be “It’s perfect as it is. I wouldn’t touch a thing.” If you’re in doubt as to what the person is seeking, ask.
2. Empathize. Try to feel what the other person is feeling. Perhaps you might recall similar situations you were in or similar emotions you experienced. Think about the importance of the issue to the person and, in general, try to put yourself into the position, the circumstance, the context of the person asking your advice.
3. Be tentative. If you give advice, give it with the qualifications it requires. The advice seeker has a right to know how sure (or unsure) you are of the advice or what evidence (or lack of evidence) you have that the advice will work.
4. Offer options. When appropriate, offer several options and in doing so include both the upsides and the downsides to each options: If you do X, then A and B are likely to follow. Even better, allow the advice seeker to identify the possible consequences of each option.
5. Ensure understanding. Often people seeking advice are emotionally upset and may not remember everything in the conversation. So, seek feedback after giving advice, for example, “Does that make sense?” “Is my suggestion workable?”
6. Keep the interaction confidential. Often advice seeking is directed at very personal matters and so it’s best to keep such conversations confidential, even if you’re not asked to do so.
7. Avoid should statements. People seeking advice still have to make their own decisions rather than being told what they should or should not do. And so, it’s better to say, for example, “You might do X” or “You could do Y” rather than “You should do Z.” Don’t demand—or even imply—that the person has to follow your advice. This attacks the person’s negative face, the person’s need for autonomy.

Responding to Advice

Here are just a few suggestions for receiving advice.
• If you asked for the advice, then accept what the person says. You owe it to the advice-giver to think about the advice and consider it. You don’t have to follow the advice, you just have to listen to it and process it.
• And even if you didn’t ask for advice, (and don’t like it) resist the temptation to retaliate or criticize the advice giver. Instead of responding with “Well, your hair doesn’t look that great either”, consider if the advice has any merit. You certainly don’t have to follow the advice, just think about it logically. And even if you conclude to reject the advice, ask yourself why someone would think you were in need of such advice.
• Interact with the advice. Talk about it with the advice-giver. A process of asking and answering questions is likely to produce added insight into the problem.
• Express your appreciation for the advice. It’s often difficult to give advice and so it’s only fair that the advice-giver receive some words of appreciation.

P.S. I wrote this as one of the topics to integrate into interpersonal communication. I'd be curious if anyone uses this--feel free to reprint if you'd like--to hear what you think.


Sex and Earnings

Here's an interesting piece on sex and earnings that looks at a seldom explored relationship. It seems that female-to-male transgender workers earned more after their sex change while male-to-female transgender workers earned less after their sex change.


Lie Detection

Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times on the use of brain scans for distinguishing truth from lies, a technology (called BEOS for Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature test) that was developed in India but has generated interest among other nations as well. Polygraph tests seem to be flawed because they really measure anxiety and good liars may not feel anxious when lying. And truth drugs are likewise flawed because, while they stimulate talking, the talk contains both truth and lies. And take a look at the website for No Lie MRI (http://www.noliemri.com/). “The technology used by No Lie MRI,” says its website, “represents the first and only direct measure of truth verification and lie detection in human history.” You can find a good academic treatment of this topic in Chapter 10 of Mark Knapp’s Lying and Deception in Human Interaction (Penguin, 2008).
Now here is the frightening part: In a recent case in India—detailed in the Times article—a 24-year-old woman was sentenced to life in prison for poisoning her ex-fiancĂ© on the basis of “evidence” from brain scans that revealed she had “experiential knowledge” of the murder that only the murderer would have. George Orwell, where are you?


College Endowments

On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a brief article, “College Presidents Defend Rising Tuition, but Lawmakers Sound Skeptical,” (9/9/08, A18) that inquired into the question, “Should colleges be required to spend more of their endowments?” Of course they should is the only logical answer. It all seems so reasonable. Together Harvard and Yale are sitting on endowments of approximately $60 billion. Universities earned an average of 17.2 percent on their assets but spent less than 5 percent. And they are tax exempt! Does this make any sense? The average tax payer is subsidizing universities with billions of dollars in assets.
One of the clearest indications that these elite colleges are just scamming the public are the comments from the wealthy universities that if they were required to spend a certain portion of their endowments, it would “interfere with their ability to manage economic downturns.” Surely these people must think we’re idiots if they expect us to swallow that level of argument. What kind of economic downturns would pose problems for universities with billions of dollars earning double digit interest?
This is not to say that colleges should not have large endowments but it is to say that if they have endowments in the billions, they should spend a substantial portion for the general good and they should not be tax exempt. After all, why should every citizen in this country subsidize universities that have assets of 10, 20, and 30 billion dollars? It just doesn’t make sense.


The Phone Interview and the Cheat Sheet

In revising The Interviewing Guidebook for a second edition, I've been adding some new material that I thought might be useful to those using the 1st edition. Here is a brief--to be more finely edited--discussion of some suggestions for the phone interview and the "cheat" sheet.

The Phone Interview

Often, an organization will prefer to interview a number of candidates by phone and then, on the basis of these phone calls, make a decision to invite the best of the candidates for face-to-face interviews. Here are a few suggestions for making this phone interview more effective and increasing the chances of your being invited to a second interview.
1. Make sure your connection is a clear one. This is not the time to use a cell phone that fades in and out. Set up a quiet space without any distractions. Avoid having this conversation at your place of work; you may not be able to control the interruptions or to speak as privately as you might like.
2. Have in front of you water to clear your throat if necessary, a pen and paper to write down important information, and a “cheat sheet” which is explained below.
3. Dress professionally. Even though the interviewer won’t see you (unless this is a video conference), you’ll probably act more professionally if you are dressed professionally (at least to some extent). Avoid having the phone interview in your pajamas which may make you act in a more relaxed and informal manner than you might want. Some interview writers recommend that you stand up during the call; it will help you sound more professional than you might if you were relaxing in a recliner.
4. Thank the interviewer for making time for the phone call. Of course, it’s the interviewer’s job to make these calls but thank the person anyway.
5. Speak professionally and dynamically. Avoid peppering your talk with expressions you might be used to using with friends of the phone—“like,” “you know,” or “I mean.” Avoid interrupting the interviewer even if you’re absolutely sure you know what he or she is going to say next. Use the interviewer’s title plus last name, unless you’re asked to use just a first name.
6. Throughout your conversation, pause enough so that the interviewer can interject comments but not too long or too frequently so as to make yourself seem uncertain.
7. Give verbal feedback during the call that tells the interviewer that you’re following and understand what is being said. These are sometimes called “minimal responses,” such as “I see,” “yes,” and “I understand.”
8. Pay particular attention to any cues the interviewer gives you that can help you regulate your conversation. Often interviewers will tell you very explicitly what they want: Tell me briefly what you did at XYZ? Or, What’s the single most important factor in a job to you? At other times, the cues will be more subtle—an interjected “OK” that may suggest you cut your response short or move on to the next question.
9. If you’re in doubt about anything you feel might be important, then seek clarification. This is a lot better than going on and on about a question you weren’t asked.
10. Ask about the next step. Remember that the main purpose of the phone interview is to get to the second interview. Be sure you take accurate notes as to any time and location for a second interview should that be set up during the interview. Often, you’ll be notified by phone call, email, or letter. In any event, make sure you know what the next step is.
11. Thank the interviewer for his or her time, express your enjoyment of the interview (not “this wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be” or anything that suggests a less than total command of the phone interview but with something like “I enjoyed learning more about XYZ”), and reiterate your interest in the job and in working at XYZ.
12. Follow up the interview by (1) keeping a log of the major issues covered, the name of the interviewer, and especially what the next step is and (2) writing a thank you note in email or by regular post.

The Cheat Sheet

The “cheat sheet” is a useful aid to the phone interview or to any interview. You create the cheat sheet and review if before going into an interview or keep it in front of you during a phone interview. The interviewer never sees your cheat sheet which contains the information you want to be sure to cover in the interview. Keep it short and simple; if it’s too long it may be difficult to use during the call and may get in the way of sounding spontaneous. Although each job and each candidate will prepare a somewhat different cheat sheet, it will generally look something like this:

Thank the Interviewer!

Experiences to mention
Record here any experiences you’ve had that might be relevant to the position—for example, relevant travel, leadership positions you’ve held, related work experiences.

Education/Training/Relevant Courses/Internships
Record here the kinds of preparation you have had that make you especially suitable for the position.

Record here what you do especially well, perhaps classified into categories such as computer skills, communication skills, research skills, or whatever is relevant to the particular position you’re seeking.

Questions to Ask
Record here any questions you want to ask about the position or about when decisions will be made.

Next Step?
Ask about the next step and be sure to record what you have to do? Do this during the interview; don’t risk forgetting it.

Thank the Interviewer!



You find insight everywhere. While watching Bhowani Junction (1956), a film of the last days of British rule in India, Stewart Granger, as Col. Rodney Savage, responds to a disparaging remark about the bi-racial, Anglo-Indians, saying: “I never hate in the plural.” It’s a great way of explaining prejudice. Novelist John Masters and screenwriters Sonya Levien and Ivan Moffat likely deserve the credit for that.
Another great and similar expression is the General Semanticists’ “The more you discriminate among, the less you can discriminate against.”



Here's a sobering article on the percentage of college students who have attempted or have considered suicide--7% have attempted suicide. Among the causes mentioned are emotional and physical pain, problems in romantic relationships, and school related issues. I can't help but think that general communication skills and perhaps especially the skills of interpersonal communication (or the lack of them) have to be a part of the picture.


John Edwards and the Affair

So, John Edwards admits to an extramarital affair. I don’t really object to the affair—after all, they are all adults and should be able to do as they wish. What I do object to is the lying and the negative effects this type of thing has on all political speeches and on the political scene generally. And of course he compounded the lie by repeatedly denying that he had this affair: “It’s completely untrue, it’s ridiculous.” He now denies that he is the father of Rielle Hunter’s baby. We’ll see when he goes on Maury :-). The fact that Edwards paid Hunter $114,000 to produce website documentaries for which she had no experience just adds one more piece of evidence for the popular conclusion of many that all politicians are liars and have only their own best interests in mind, certainly not those of the average citizen. Actually, I think we knew this when he joked about his $400 haircut; it was a clear indication that he was totally out of touch with real people and that he was concerned with one person, John Edwards. On the positive side, there are likely to be some interesting speeches of apology for study in public speaking.

Body Image

A review of some 15 studies reported in Body Image finds that when men look at photos of attractive muscular men, their own level of body satisfaction decreases. Surprise! Surprise! Did anyone ever doubt this?


The Silence of the Academy

The following is an in-progress essay. I have lots more work to do on this but I thought by posting it here I might get some feedback which would help in the never-ending process of revising. So, if anyone has anything to say on this issue, please let me know—either here in comments or by e-mail. Criticisms, clarifications, corrections, extensions, agreements, disagreements, etc. will all be most welcomed.

The Silence of the Academy

Throughout history, the relevance of the Academy has been questioned. Of course, those of us in the Academy dismiss this as simply a misconception based on misinformation. The Academy, we argue, is not only relevant, it is the major hope for the future, a significant force in curing the ills of the world, whether famine, war, or illness. But, even a cursory glance through the daily newspapers, weekly magazines, and news websites seems to argue otherwise. Maybe the Academy is irrelevant to the world at large. And, its irrelevance is largely the result of its silence on the significant issues of the day. Although academics might talk to each other about relevant issues at their conventions or in their journals there seems no real effort to inform the general public; their research and findings have not made USAToday, Time, or Google News, which, today, fortunately or unfortunately, means silence. A few examples may be offered in support of this seeming heresy.

The arguments over the teaching of evolution versus divine design have probably surprised lots of us. The argument that divine design should be taught as one theory in a field of theories, we quickly realize, is lacking in the understanding of what a theory is. Divine design is not a theory of anything; it is a belief and beliefs can be taught legitimately as beliefs—as they are in religious schools—but not as theories. In fact, we know that evolution is not just a theory; it’s an explanation of how life as we know it developed. Yet, and here is where the silence comes in, we hear nothing from, for example, the National Association of Biology Teachers whose mission statement reads: “The National Association of Biology Teachers empowers educators to provide the best possible biology and life science education for all students” (www.nabt.org/sites/S1/index.php?p=5, accessed 8/2/08). Where is the statement from this part of the Academy that addresses this issue?

Actually, this issue goes beyond the failure to publicize what is known about biological processes. In some instances, this issue is distorted in the textbooks so as not to lose large adoptions from communities that want divine design and evolution taught simply as alternative “scientific” theories. Here publishers, authors, and relevant academic associations all share the blame for perpetuating fraud and teaching misinformation.

Research tells us that children of gay parents and children of straight parents develop in the same way. Children of gay parents are not handicapped in any way except from the prejudice of others, admittedly an important concern. Further, there is not one shred of evidence to indicate that the popular argument against gay marriage—that it will lead to a deterioration in family values and minimize heterosexual marriage—has any validity. Likewise, the policy of the military in excluding gay men and lesbians (who do tell), we know, has no merit and in fact, seriously hinders the effectiveness and efficiency of the current military (recall the Arab language experts who were dismissed from the military because they were gay). So, where are the statements from the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association (with its 14,000 members and its 10 professional journals and magazines), and the National Communication Association reporting their research into gay relationships, gay adoption, gay marriage, and gay men and lesbians in the military? Why aren’t statements from these organizations a major part of the news reporting on these issues?

The Geological Society of America claims that “earth science education is at the core of the National Education Standards” and says that it is “dedicated to increasing the appreciation of the Earth’s history, processes, and resources” (www.geosociety.org/educate, accessed 8/2/08)). Similarly, the American Geographical Society claims that it “encourages activities that expand geographical knowledge, and it has a well-earned reputation for presenting and interpreting that knowledge so that it can be understood and used not just by geographers but by others as well—especially policy makers” (www.amergeog.org/organization.htm, accessed 8/2/08). Where is their open letter to the American people and to those who minimize the threat of global warming that societies such as these know is real and potentially catastrophic.

Currently John McCain (born 8/29/1936) is the presumptive Republican nominee for United States President. If he’s elected and serves two terms, he will be in office when he is 80 years old. According to Science Daily “after age 70, educated adults may begin to lose the ability to use their schooling to compensate for normal, age-related memory loss” (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070109141930.htm). WebMD reports on a study that “shows that as many as one in five of us can expect to develop difficulties with various mental abilities—thinking, learning, and memory—by our mid-70s” (www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20031020/losses-in-memory-ability-common-with-age). Another study reports: “About 40% of people aged 65 or older have age associated memory impairment” (www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/324/7352/1502). This is the likely outcome of old age, pure and simple. And yet the American Geriatric Society and similar learned and academic associations have said nothing, at least not to the general voter (www.americangeriatrics.org/policy, accessed 8/2/08). Don’t they have anything of relevance to say? Surely they have statistics, similar to those cited here, on the mental deterioration that many (admittedly not all) people experience as they age. Along with the rest of the Academy, they remain silent on an issue that can have enormous consequences not only for the United States but for the entire world.

And while in the election arena, where are the rhetoricians—from Communication and from English—to point out the misleading and often downright false statements made by political candidates throughout the year? Do we have to rely on the often biased reporting of the daily newspapers with political agendas of their own?

And, in the midst of the US government preventing journalists access to a wide variety of information, where is the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication whose mission statement reads in part: “The purpose of the corporation [that is, AEJMC] shall be the improvement of education in journal and mass communication to the end of achieving better professional practice, a better informed public, and wider human understanding” (www.aejmc.org/_about/constitution.php)? How does AEJMC’s silence contribute to “a better informed public”? And where is the outcry over such censorship from our elite journalism schools? It is inconceivable that such schools can be teaching journalism ethics when they remain silent in the face of such assaults on freedom of information.

Today, animal experimentation (for better cosmetics, for example) is rampant along with inhumane treatment of all animals—from the geese to make foie gras to the calves that are prevented from ever moving during their short lives to make veal to the pit bull and cock fighting—and yet academic ethicists, philosophers, and humanists generally concern themselves with mainly irrelevant issues and let this type of cruelty go unnoticed. And where are the cultural theorists who are willing to put aside their claim to political correctness and call inhumane treatment of animals what it is, regardless of how carefully it is woven into the fabric of the culture.

Advertisers routinely use misleading language and often make downright false claims and yet communication scholars (National Communication Association or the International Communication Association, for example) say nothing, other than perhaps to each other at conventions and in journals.

Historians, especially those writing textbooks for elementary and high schools (though college text writers are not blameless), are silent on the atrocities that this country has committed throughout its history and continues to commit today. The textbook descriptions of our history in settling the west, for example, seem dangerously similar to the Hollywood versions we saw as kids. Many of our founding fathers, who are so revered in our American history texts, were also slave owners but this seems to be omitted or minimized—often allowed to be omitted by both author and publisher at the “request” of a large enough school district. Shouldn’t historians be concerned with the lessons history can teach us? But, perhaps not. The mission statement from the American Historical Association reads, in part: “As the largest historical society in the United States, the AHA provides leadership and advocacy for the profession, fights to ensure academic freedom, monitors professional standards, spearheads essential research in the field, and provides resources and services to help its members succeed” (www.historians.org/info/index.cfm, accessed 8/2/08). Interestingly, there is nothing about conducting research relevant to the issues facing the world today or, to take just one example, about voicing concerns over presidential violations of the constitution.

All this is not to say that the Academy is, by definition, irrelevant. In fact, the examples offered here demonstrate that the Academy can and should be extremely relevant. Nor is this to argue that such academic associations have never gone public with their findings; certainly there have been attempts. But, nothing on the scale that would be necessary to have a real impact on real people.
Its silence is unfortunate, especially in a world that now so desperately needs the insights and direction from our brightest and most informed.


Online Examinations

A brief article in the Education Life section of Sunday’s New York Times July 27, 2008) talks about the posting of exams on the Internet—a cyber-version of the old fraternity files of past tests. But, in this case, it’s not just a few exams and a few fraternity brothers; thousands of examinations are being scanned into websites and thousands of students are consulting them. It raises lots of interesting issues: Is it ethical to study with previously used questions? Is it ethical to study with “live” questions—questions that are currently on exams? Is it ethical for schools to track students’ use of such websites? Is the honor system—at the University of Virginia, for example—that forbids students to consult previously used examinations effective? Is it fair to the students? Is consulting old questions just a good way of studying, of preparing for examinations? Does the instructor have an ethical obligation to prepare new examinations each semester?


Cover Letters

Here's the study that USA Today refers to in Snapshots (7/17/08, p. B1). Briefly, 86% of the executives surveyed said that a cover letter was very valuable(23%)or somewhat valuable (63%)to accompany the job application resume.



Here's an interesting article on e-mail between patient and therapist. I thought the article interesting because it identifies some of the advantages and some of the disadvantages of using e-mail in such situations.


Interpersonal Communication and . . .

Here's an interesting discussion of interpersonal conflict training for police. Also, click on "anger management" on this same page and you'll find some interesting material on fair fighting and on using communication skills to reduce stress. It seems like there's nothing we can't do with communication.



Not surprisingly most of the reviewers of Essentials of Human Communication and Interpersonal Messages stressed that listening was the skill their students were most in need of. And so in preparation for the new editions, I've been researching listening. Here is the Free Management Library's "listening" offerings. These make a great complement to the academic textbook and may even seem more credible to students:-)


Levels of Communication

In reference to Nell's comment about the levels of communication: I think most people organize the levels of communication around the number of people participating: intrapersonal (1 person), interpersonal (2 or 3 people), small group (5-10 people), and public speaking (1 speaker with audiences ranging from very small to very large). And then there's mass communication which involves even more people. And then there's interviewing which is often grouped with interpersonal (because it usually involves 2 people but not necessarily people who are close to each other and is increasingly conducted in groups). And then there's computer mediated communication which is really on a different level because it can be interpersonal (as in e-mail), small group (as in chat rooms), or public (as in blogs or newsgroups). If this doesn't answer your question, let me know and I'll try again.


What do you say?

Here's an interesting discussion starter--what do you call that person you're dating, seeing, having a relationship with?


Same- and Opposite-Sex Relationships

Here's an interesting article from the New York Times Science section summarizing some of the research on same-sex and opposite-sex relationships. Here are some of the interesting findings:
(1) “Same sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. . . Partners [in same sex relationships] tended to share the burdens far more equally.”
(2) Same-sex and opposite-sex couples have about the same amount of interpersonal conflict but same-sex couples had a higher degree of relationship satisfaction.
(3) When same-sex partners engage in conflict, they fight more fairly—“making fewer verbal attacks and more of an effort to defuse the confrontation. Controlling and hostile emotional tactics, like belligerence and domineering, were less common among gay couples.”
(4) During a conflict episode, opposite-sex couples were more likely to develop elevated heartbeat and adrenaline surges; after the conflict, opposite sex couples are more likely to remain in an agitated state.
(5) Same-sex partners seem better able to take the perspective of their partner than are opposite-sex couples, perhaps for obvious reasons.
(6) The demand-withdrawal pattern observed in opposite sex couples [“the woman tends to be unhappy and to make demands for change, while the man reacts by withdrawing from the conflict”] seems common in same-sex couples as well. So, it does not appear that this pattern is deeply rooted in gender.



Update on the statistics on cohabitation. A study of 13 countries (including the US), reported in USA Today (6/9/08, 5D), shows clearly that cohabitation is increasing. In the US, for example, it increased from 5.1 percent of all couples (in 1995) to 7.6 percent (in 2005). In Denmark and Sweden, approximately one-fourth of all couples cohabitate. Not everyone seems to agree on why people are increasingly cohabitating but among the reasons given are economic, uncertainty over the relationship, and as an alternative to traditional marriage.


If you want a good example of stereotyping and the stupidity it signals, consider the comment of Joseph L. Bruno, NYS senate majority leader, on gay marriage. His opposition, he assures us, should not be taken to mean he doesn’t appreciate the accomplishments of gay people. In fact, he particularly admires their contributions to the arts (New York Times, 6/2/08, B4). This kind of stereotyping is all the more frightening when we realize that Bruno is not only the leader of NYS’s Republican Party but that he is next in line to be Governor of NYS. We can only wonder why he admires other groups that have traditionally been stereotyped. I won’t even begin to speculate. But I think an interesting discussion would result from asking students to consider what someone who stereotypes a la Bruno would admire in groups of which they’re members.



Self-affirmation is often confusing to students who aren’t quite sure of how it can be done. I think a particularly useful way to look at self-affirmation is in terms of “I am,” “I can,” and “I will” statements, an idea that comes from www.coping.org (and there’s a lot more on this website that I think you’ll find useful):
I am statements focus on your self-image, on how you see yourself, and might include, for example, “I am a worthy person,” “I am responsible,” “I am capable of loving,” and “I am a good team player.”
I can statements focus on your abilities and might include, for example, “I can accept my past but also let it go,” “I can learn to be a more responsive partner,” “I can assert myself when appropriate,” and “I can control my anger.”
I will statements focus on useful and appropriate goals you want to achieve and might include, for example, “I will get over my guilty feelings,” “I will study more effectively,” “I will act more supportively,” and “I will not take on more responsibility than I can handle.”
The idea behind this advice is that the way you talk to yourself will influence what you think of yourself. If you affirm yourself—if you tell yourself that you’re a friendly person, that you can be a leader, that you will succeed on the next test—you will soon come to feel more positively about yourself. Some research, however, argues that such affirmations—although extremely popular in self-help books—may not be very helpful. These critics contend that if you have low self-esteem, you’re not going to believe your self-affirmations, because you don’t have a high opinion of yourself to begin with. They propose that the alternative to self-affirmation is to secure affirmation from others. You’d do this by, for example, becoming more interpersonally competent and interacting with more positive people. In this way, you’d get more positive feedback from others—which, these researchers argue, is more helpful than self-talk in raising self-esteem.


Excuses and Apologies

I re-wrote the section on excuses for the next edition of TICB and I thought it might be useful to post here. The main difference between this one and the one in the 11th edition is that this one distinguishes excuses and apologies and discusses some qualities of the effective apology.

Repairing Conversational Problems: Excuses and Apologies

At times you may say the wrong thing; then, because you can’t erase the message (communication really is irreversible), you may try to offer some kind of an explanation; you’d try to account for what happened. Perhaps the most common methods for doing so are the excuse and the apology, two closely related conversational accounts.
Excuses, central to all forms of communication and interaction, are “explanations or actions that lessen the negative implications of an actor’s performance, thereby maintaining a positive image for oneself and others” (Snyder, 1984; Snyder, Higgins, & Stucky, 1983). Apologies are expressions of regret or sorrow for having done what you did or for what happened. Often the two are blended—I didn’t realize how fast I was driving (the excuse); I’m really sorry (the apology). Let’s separate them and look first at the excuse.

The Excuse

Excuses seem especially in order when you say or are accused of saying something that runs counter to what is expected, sanctioned, or considered “right” by the people with whom you’re talking. Ideally, the excuse lessens the negative impact of the message.

Some Motives for Excuse Making
The major motive for excuse making seems to be to maintain your self-esteem, to project a positive image to yourself and to others. Excuses also represent an effort to reduce stress: You may feel that if you can offer an excuse—especially a good one that is accepted by those around you—it will reduce the negative reaction and the subsequent stress that accompanies a poor performance.
Excuses also may enable you to maintain effective interpersonal relationships even after some negative behavior. For example, after criticizing a friend’s behavior and observing the negative reaction to your criticism, you might offer an excuse such as, “Please forgive me; I’m really exhausted. I’m just not thinking straight.” Excuses enable you to place your messages—even your possible failures—in a more favorable light.

Types of Excuses
Different researchers have classified excuses into varied categories (Scott & Lyman, 1968; Cody & Dunn, 2007). One of the best typologies classifies excuses into three main types (Snyder, 1984):
• I didn’t do it: Here you deny that you have done what you’re being accused of. You may then bring up an alibi to prove you couldn’t have done it, or perhaps you may accuse another person of doing what you’re being blamed for (“I never said that” or “I wasn’t even near the place when it happened”). These “I didn’t do it” types are generally the worst excuses (unless they’re true), because they fail to acknowledge responsibility and offer no assurance that this failure will not happen again.
• It wasn’t so bad: Here you admit to doing it but claim the offense was not really so bad or perhaps that there was justification for the behavior (“I only padded the expense account, and even then only modestly” or “Sure, I hit him, but he was asking for it”).
• Yes, but: Here you claim that extenuating circumstances accounted for the behavior; for example, that you weren’t in control of yourself at the time or that you didn’t intend to do what you did (“It was the liquor talking” or “I never intended to hurt him; I was actually trying to help”).

Good and Bad Excuses
The most important question for most people is what makes a good excuse and what makes a bad excuse (Snyder, 1984; Slade, 1995). How can you make good excuses and thus get out of problems, and how can you avoid bad excuses that only make matters worse? Good excuse makers use excuses in moderation; bad excuse makers rely on excuses too often. Good excuse makers avoid blaming others, especially those they work with; bad excuse makers blame even their work colleagues. In a similar way, good excuse makers don’t attribute their failure to others or to the company; bad excuse makers do. Good excuse makers acknowledge their own responsibility for the failure by noting that they did something wrong (not that they lack competence); bad excuse makers refuse to accept any responsibility for their failures. Not surprisingly, excuse makers who accept responsibility will be perceived as more credible, competent, and likable than those who deny responsibility (Dunn & Cody, 2000).
What makes one excuse effective and another ineffective will vary from one culture to another and will depend on factors already discussed such as the culture’s individualism–collectivism, its power distance, the values it places on assertiveness, and various other cultural tendencies (Tata, 2000). But, at least in the United States, researchers seem to agree that the best excuses in interpersonal communication contain five elements (Slade, 1995; Coleman, 2002).
1. You demonstrate that you really understand the problem and that your partner’s feelings are legitimate and justified. Avoid minimizing the issue or your partner’s feelings (“It was only $100; you’re overreacting,” “I was only two hours late”).
2. You acknowledge your responsibility. If you did something wrong, avoid qualifying your responsibility (“I’m sorry if I did anything wrong”) or expressing a lack of sincerity (“Okay, I’m sorry; it’s obviously my fault—again”). On the other hand, if you can demonstrate that you had no control over what happened and therefore cannot be held responsible, your excuse is likely to be highly persuasive (Heath, Stone, Darley, & Grannemann, 2003).
3. You acknowledge your own displeasure at what you did; you make it clear that you’re not happy with yourself for having done what you did.
4. You make it clear that your misdeed will never happen again.
Some researchers include a fifth step which is really an apology. Here you would request forgiveness for what you did. Let’s look at the apology more specifically.

The Apology

In its most basic form, an apology is an expression of regret for something you did; it’s a statement that you’re sorry. And so, the most basic of all apologies is simply: I’m sorry. In popular usage, the apology includes some admission of wrongdoing on the part of the person making the apology. Sometimes the wrongdoing is acknowledged explicitly (I’m sorry I lied) and sometimes only by implication (I’m sorry you’re so upset).
In many cases the apology also includes a request for forgiveness (Please forgive my lateness) and some assurance that this won’t happen again (Please forgive my lateness; it won’t happen again).
According to the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge website (http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/3481.html, accessed May 20, 2008) apologies are useful for two main reasons. Apologies (1) help repair relationships (as you can easily imagine) and (2) repair the reputation of the wrongdoer. So, if you do something wrong in your relationship, for example, an apology will help you repair the relationship with your partner and perhaps reduce the level of conflict. At the same time, however, realize that other people know about your behavior (just think Jerry Springer) and an apology will help improve the image of you that they have in their minds.
An effective apology, like an effective excuse, must be crafted for the specific situation. Effective apologies are situational. An effective apology to a long-time lover, to a parent, or to a new supervisor are likely to be very different because the individuals are different and the relationships are different. And so, the first rule of an effective apology is to take into consideration the uniqueness of the situation—the people, the context, the cultural rules, the relationship, the specific wrongdoing—for which you might want to apologize. Each situation will call for a somewhat different message of apology.
Nevertheless we can offer some general recommendations. Combining the insights of a wide variety of researches, seven dos and seven don’ts can be offered for apologizing effectively.

Seven Dos:
1. Do admit wrongdoing if indeed wrongdoing occurred. Accept responsibility. Own your own actions; don’t try to pass them off as the work of someone else. Instead of “Smith drives so slow, it’s a wonder I’m only 30 minutes late,” say “I should have taken traffic into consideration.”
2. Do be apologetic. Say (and mean) the words I’m sorry or What I did was wrong.
3. Do state in specific rather than general terms what you’ve done. Instead of “I’m sorry for what I did,” say “I’m sorry for getting drunk at the party and flirting with everyone.”
4. Do express understanding of how the other person feels and acknowledge the legitimacy of these feelings, for example, “You have every right to be angry; I should have called.”
5. Do express your regret that this has created a problem for the other person, “I’m sorry I made you miss your appointment.”
6. Do offer to correct the problem (whenever this is possible), “I’m sorry I didn’t clean up the mess I made; I’ll do it now.”
7. Do give assurance that this will not happen again. Say, quite simply, “It won’t happen again” or better and more specifically, “I won’t be late again.”

Seven Don’ts
At the same time that you follow the suggestions for crafting an effective apology, try to avoid these common ineffective messages:
1. Don’t apologize when it isn’t necessary.
2. Don’t justify your behavior by mentioning that everyone does it, for example, “Everyone leaves work early on Friday.”
3. Don’t justify your behavior by saying that the other person has done something equally wrong: “So I play poker; you play the lottery.”
4. Don’t accuse the other person of contributing to the problem. “I should have known you’re overly anxious about receiving the figures exactly at 9 a.m.”
5. Don’t minimize the hurt that this may have caused. Avoid such comments as, “So the figures arrived a little late. What’s the big deal?”
6. Don’t include excuses with the apology. Avoid such combinations as “I’m sorry the figures are late but I had so much other work to do.” An excuse often takes back the apology and says, in effect, I’m really not sorry because there was good reason for what I’ve done but I’m saying “I’m sorry” to cover all my bases and to make this uncomfortable situation go away.
7. Don’t take the easy way out and apologize through e-mail (unless the wrongdoing was committed in e-mail or if e-mail is your only or main form of communication). Generally, it’s more effective to use a more personal mode of communication—face-to-face or phone, for example. It’s harder but it’s more effective.

College Degrees Earned and Unearned

The recent news about West Virginia University awarding a master’s degree (that she apparently didn’t earn) to the governor’s daughter, prompts us to look more closely at what degrees actually mean. And, it’s not surprising that some attention should focus on President George Bush. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the Bush policies and whether you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or Independent you need to wonder how George Bush received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in history. His lack of knowledge of history is actually quite glaring and so I wonder how he ever got a degree from Yale. I wouldn’t have been graduated from P.S. 3 in the Bronx without knowing some very basic facts of history (to say nothing of geography) that Bush didn’t seem to know.
But, this is not about Bush or about Heather Bresch (the Governor’s daughter who received the degree from WVU). Rather, this is about education and the people’s right to know. Specifically, Yale and Harvard and probably most of the Ivy League actively recruit high-profile students—especially students who are the sons and daughters of famous (and rich) parents. Not only will these universities be in line for massive financial donations but they also get lots of publicity from presidents, senators, and the like who sport a degree from their institution.
The fact that George Bush had a degree from Yale likely influenced some voters—after all, it’s not unlikely that people felt comfortable voting for a person who went to one of the most prestigious universities in the world—surely he must be intelligent and knowledgeable. But, that turned out not to be the case and so we wonder how he got that degree from Yale. Very likely we’ll never know. But, we can do something so that this doesn’t happen again. The proposal is very simple: whenever someone runs for political office in the United States, his or her complete college record should become public information. Much like a candidate’s tax returns are made public, so should the candidate’s college records. There are several good reasons for this proposal:
1. Colleges would be put on notice that their degrees have to be earned.
2. The government, especially since 9/11, has access to phone records, bank accounts, tax returns, surveillance videos, Internet searches, DNA data, and a host of other information on the average citizen. Why shouldn’t the average citizen (the voter) know about the educational background of someone running for office?
3. The educational background—and here I mean courses taken, grades earned, papers written, SAT scores, attendance records—the whole nine yards—of a political candidate. We have a right to know this because this is part of who the candidate is and because this will influence what that candidate does in office which in turn will impact everyone of us. We have the right to information that is relevant to the choices we make, in this case who we vote for. Whether any individual chooses to use this information when he or she votes, is of course up to the individual; some will likely use it and some won’t.
4. When a college hires a professor, a committee (sometimes several committees) looks carefully at the courses taken, the letters of recommendation, the dissertation written, and lots more. This is information that is relevant to the job for which the person is being considered. Isn’t this information also relevant to our selection of political candidates? And, in the case of a potential president of the United States, isn’t this information essential?


NCA Speaks Up

So, Ellen and Portia are getting married, now that California has repealed the ban against gay marriage. Can Rosie and Kelly be far behind? If you’re interested in the gay marriage issue from the point of view of the National Communication Association and the field of communication generally, take a look at CRTNET. You can get there by going to NCA’s website (www.natcom.org) and clicking on CRTNET and then clicking to unsubscribe, subscribe, or view archives. The relevant letters—as of today—are in the May 9, May 12, and May 16 archives.

Cultural Insensitivity

Just when I think we got it right, teaching about the importance of cultural awareness and sensitivity in our increasingly intercultural world, I find an article in the New York Times (5/19/08, p. A6) entitled, “U.S. Regret at Koran’s Desecration”. Apparently a U.S. soldier had “used the Koran for target practice at a shooting range.” The letter of apology—from the soldier (unidentified) and read by General Hammond—said “I sincerely hope that my actions have not diminished the partnership that our two nations have developed together.” Is he serious? This is not, I fear, a simple misstep by one soldier but a pervasive insensitivity and cultural ignorance that can only create more problems than we already have.


Change and Audience Analysis

The Change Report has some interesting implications for our discussions of audience analysis. I’m not sure I’ve seen any public speaking textbook that talks about geographical differences. For example, Northeasterners have a greater fear of death of a family member than do those from other areas of the country. Not surprisingly, Southerners are more likely to fear a hurricane or similar natural disaster than are those in other parts of the country. Southerners also worry more about the deterioration of personal finances than do Westerners. These types of survey findings, it seems to me, have interesting implications for selecting a topic, for gaining attention, for motivational appeals, and lots more.


Change and Communication

One of the interesting things about The Change Report is the importance of change in everyone’s life; it’s universal, it’s inevitable. Further, the two most frequent initial responses to change were: discussion with family and discussion with friends. Clearly, change and communication are closely related.
And yet we do very little with change in our teaching of communication. Although we talk about the stages of a relationship, for example, we don’t provide very much guidance for dealing with the inevitable changes that take place as you move toward or away from intimacy, say. It seems only in General Semantics is the nature of change and its implications for thought and behavior a major part of study. Static evaluation, dating statements, and the process nature of reality, for example, offer excellent guides for dealing with change.
We need to do more with teaching students how to adjust to change. Just brainstorming a bit, such topics might include: How do messages change with one’s position in the organizational hierarchy? How do you talk about your changing feelings in a romantic or friendship or family relationship? How do you move from friendship to romance? How do you come out and tell your parents you’re gay? How can you adapt to the change after your son or daughter comes out? How do you tell a loved one you’ve just been given bad news about your health? How do you tell your parents that you’re ready to move on and leave the nest? How do you explain the changes you’ve gone through when you ask for a divorce or separation? How do you adapt to again being single (after a divorce or separation, say)? How do you adapt to changes after being fired? Most of these questions actually are related to the findings in The Change Report.
One additional note may be added here: About 37% of the respondents claimed that they did not respond successfully to change. Among the regrets that people have about their unsuccessful dealing with change are: less stress; being more assertive; doing greater planning; doing things sooner, for example, looking for a job; worry less; and communicating more effectively.


Gender Differences

Here's a brief review of Michael Motley's study on why men and women miscommunicate. It's an interesting take on a much discussed issue.

Change and Gender

According to The Change Report (the website I noted in a previous post seems to have disappeared) both men and women say they respond to change successfully. The fears that men and women perceive as most stressful seem very similar, with a few differences. For example, the top 5 fears of men are (in order, beginning with the most stressful): death of a spouse, death of a family member, diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, a downward turn in personal finances, and disability. The top 5 fears reported by women are: death of a family member, death of a spouse, diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, a downward turn in personal finances, and the disability or illness of one’s partner. In their summary of gender differences, Change Report notes that men are more likely to fear disability and the death of a friend than are women. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to fear the death of a family member and the illness of a child than are men.

Gay Marriage and Communication

Since the issue of gay marriage is so central to all aspects of communication and relationships, a few words about the issue and particularly about the California Supreme Court’s recent ruling that prohibiting gay marriage is unconstitutional and discriminatory seem appropriate.
In fact, I would think this topic would make for some spirited classroom discussion. The issue is perhaps most relevant to the study of interpersonal communication and relationships (after all, the way in which a relationship is defined—semantically and politically—will influence the relationship and the way in which others respond to that relationship which in turn will influence the relationship further, and on and on). But, I think the topic will prove relevant in a variety of classes. For example, in interpersonal communication (if you’re using a stage model of relationships such as the one I present in my books or the models of Mark Knapp or Julia Wood, say), some interesting discussion might center on how the stages might differ among persons who can be married and persons who cannot be married? How does that one difference influence the possible progression up and down the relationship track? In a persuasion class, the arguments for and against gay marriage would make for an interesting exercise in logic and reasoning. In small group classes this topic would be a natural for an information-sharing discussion. And in mass media, the topic would make for some interesting comparisons among media outlets in the United States and throughout the world. And in all these courses, the relevance of this topic to the issue to ethics is obvious.
California is only the 2nd state (Massachusetts is the other) to recognize something so obvious as the fact that preventing one group of people from enjoying the benefits that are readily available to another group of people is discriminatory and unconstitutional. It’s helpful, I think, to remember that it was as recently as 1967 (June 12)—just 40 years ago—that the US Supreme Court ruled (in Loving v. Virginia) that bans against interracial marriage were unconstitutional. And it’s also relevant to recall that the prohibitions against interracial marriage were supported by some of the very same organizations (some religious, some political) that are now asking that GLBT people continue to be discriminated against. Wouldn’t it be nice if “marriage” was defined in terms of the love between two people and not by gender?
I wonder (and worry) about why discrimination against a group of people occupies so much of the time and energy of the very people and organizations who are supposed to be concerned with issues that can improve the quality of life for all people. Why would they not be more concerned with such issues as the war, the economy, an educational system in need of major renovation, an infrastructure desperately in need of repair, global warming, and pollution—to take just a few examples? I just don’t get it.



The Change Report, based on 1306 online interviews conducted by Southeastern Institute of Research has a lot to say about interpersonal communication and relationships so I thought I'd post a few items based on this report. The part of this research that has been highlighted by the press is its survey of the top fears that people have now and had in 1967 (when the Social Readjustment Rating Scale was published). There are some interesting differences and although the researchers caution that statistical comparisons should not be made, they do note that the findings can be interpreted as relative and directional. [Respondents were asked to give a numerical value (from 1 to 100) to a variety of stressful events.] In 1967 the death of a spouse was rated 100 but in 2007 it was rated 80. The death of a friend, on the other hand, showed a different direction. In 1967 it was 37 but in 2007 it was 58.
Also interesting was the rating given to divorce--in 1967 it received a rating of 73 but in 2007 it had dropped to 66. It seems relationship stressors are easier to navigate today than they were in 1967.
On the other hand, stress from being laid off from a job went from 47 in 1967 to 62 in 2007 and changing job field went from 36 in 1967 to 47 in 2007. It seems that job stressors are getting worse.


Rockefeller, Harvard, and Elitism

The comment on my post about Rockefeller and Harvard deserves a response. Basically, 3 items: First, Rockefeller did not profit from Harvard in any meaningful way; Harvard, on the other hand, profited from Rockefeller. Rockefeller profited from a family fortune--Harvard probably had little to do with it. Rockefeller was probably well educated before he went to Harvard and would have been as successful as he was had he gone to any city or state college. Second, I don't think the motivation for giving should be based on where you went to school or what organization you're a member of, but rather on where your money can do the most good. And, Harvard, isn't the spot, IMHO. Third, this type of giving is just an example of the elite giving to the elite to perpetuate their own elitism. Having said this, I believe that Rockefeller has the right to give his money where he wants, but I don't have to believe there was such noble purpose to this gesture or that the money could not have been spent more wisely or more honorably. Success--whether financial or academic--entails responsibilities and I don't see this $100,000,000 gift to Harvard as meeting the responsibilities of someone so enormously wealthy.

Blog Links

Take a look at the blogs (Communication Overload and Communicate Better) under links. I think you'll find them both interesting and useful.


The Misuse of Money

I see that David Rockefeller has pledged to give $100 million to Harvard University, a university that has an endowment of $28 billion and that spends only an infinitesimal part of this endowment (rumored to be about 5%) while it earns interest in the double digits (close to 17% in 2006). Education is surely a worthy cause and I’d be the last to suggest that education is not the place for philanthropy. And I think it’s a good thing that a large part of this $ will go to cultural studies. But couldn’t that money have been better spent on colleges and other educational institutions that really need it? Does a university with an endowment of $28 billion really need another $100 million? I think not. And I think that donations like this should not be viewed positively (as does the press and, I fear, the general public) but rather as the poor use of money that it is.