At NCA meetings and especially in the Basic Course meetings, the topic of plagiarism comes up frequently and is viewed as one of the great problems in education generally and in public speaking in particular. And then I see David Greenberg’s article, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Speech,” (NYTimes, 2/24/08, The Nation, 3), reminding me that Joe Biden—six-term Democratic Senator from Delaware and 2008 presidential candidate—“appropriated the content of a speech from the British politician Neil Kinnock—including biographical details, like being the first in his family to attend college, that didn’t apply to Mr. Biden. More uncredited borrowings surfaced, including phrases from Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. Soon, the news that Mr. Biden had committed plagiarism in law school led him to end his campaign [in 1986].” And then I read about Columbia University’s Teacher’s College determining that Professor Madonna Constantine had committed “academic plagiarism” but was not prepared to take any disciplinary action—at least as of the last I read. Exactly what are the electorate and Columbia University telling us? They seem to be telling me that plagiarism is serious business but we needn’t do anything about it.


Agenda Setting

Agenda-setting theory holds that our perception of the importance of various issues can be explained by the way in which the media treat the issues; those items given great emphasis and exposure by the media are those that the public will perceive as important and those that the media does not emphasize will be perceived as of less importance (originally presented, I believe, in Shaw and McCombs, The Emergence of American Political Issues: The Agenda-Setting Function of the Press, West, 1977 and discussed in most mass communication texts).
Today we see this to an incredible degree, not only from the media but from the government as well. Apparently the media—the press and television, and the Congress of the United States want us to believe that Roger Clemens’ use or non-use of steroids and human growth hormones is something that is extremely important, that is of national interest, and that we should all be concerned with. Forget about the 3,950 American lives lost in Iraq—that gets shoved onto page 17; just focus on Roger Clemens getting shot in the ass with steroids. Forget about the 38,000 displaced families in the Gulf and the toxic trailers that the government constructed and that they now have to move out of. That too gets less coverage than Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee. Are we to believe that this is a good use of Congress’s time? Can Congress find nothing better to do with its time and resources? Personally, I don’t care if Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds or any other ballplayer took steroids. What I can’t figure out is why anyone else would care.
I suspect that if you asked your students to name the most important news stories of the week, the Clemens fiasco would rank high, higher than the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crisis in Darfur, global warming, the loss of civil liberties, the government sponsored torture of prisoners, and the plight of the poor and homeless—to name just a few.

Guns on Campus

While we all grieve for the students at Northern Illinois University and their families and friends, we need to see an even greater catastrophe in the making. And that is the pro-firearm bills proposed after the Virginia Tech shootings and that are now gaining strength (12 states are currently considering such bills) as a result of the NIU killings. This is total insanity. The idea that if students, faculty, and staff were allowed to carry firearms on campus that they would be able to protect themselves from another attack is absolutely crazy! This is a position that seems to have no valid argument in its support. It is a position that can only lead to more campus killings.
There is no evidence to support the idea that more guns equal greater safety. In fact, the very idea is absurd. Homes that have guns experience a greater number of killings than homes without guns. Schools would be no different.
The argument that gun permits would be required which would then lead to only the peace-loving students, faculty, and staff having guns is equally absurd. There is no way that any reliable test can be administered to people requesting permits that would effectively distinguish those who would kill others as at VT and NIU and those who would only defend themselves and others.
If I were teaching argumentation and debate or persuasion I would ask students to construct a speech in support of the pro-firearm position. I would hope that if they learned anything in the course, they would not be able to construct such a speech—at least not one with valid arguments, evidence, and even a semblance of logic.


Mimicry, persuasion, and pro-social behavior

This article reports on the persuasiveness of simple mimicry; if you mimic another individual's nonverbal behavior, you're likely to be more persuasive than if you didn't mimic. In addition, mimicry seems to increase pro-social behavior even for those not involved in the mimicry interaction; that is, if someone mimics you, you're more likely to engage in some pro-social behavior. As you can imagine, an understanding of mimicry can be useful for the person attempting to persuade as well as for the critical listener. And, of course, recognize that mimicry when taken to the extreme can backfire and be perceived as insulting. There's a great deal of research on this; just search for "mimicry" or "behavioral contagion" or "communication accommodation."


The Impostor

Some years ago, one of the most interesting concepts advanced was that of the impostor [or imposter] phenomenon—which, briefly, refers to the psychological syndrome in which one feels like a failure and a fake in spite of outward appearances of success. The titles of two of the books at that time further explain this belief: Cynthia Katz, If I’m so Successful, Why Do I feel Like a Fake? (St. Martins, 1985) and Pauline Rose Clance, The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear that Haunts Your Success (Peachtree, 1985). Now, however, according to some research (reported in the Science Times, NYTimes, 2/5/08): “many self-styled impostors are phony phonies; they adopt self-deprecation as a social strategy [as a type of impression or identity management], consciously or not, and are secretly more confident than they let on.” The original article is: Kumar, S., & Jagacinski, C. M. (2006). Imposters have goals too. Personality and Individual Differences 40, 147-157.


Interpersonal Communication Exercise, Discourse Analysis

Here is an exercise that I think will prove effective around the middle of the semester, with the coverage of conversation, or perhaps at the end of the semester. It might even be useful right at the beginning of the course to illustrate some of the ways we talk about interpersonal communication. The general purpose of this exercise is to clarify the concepts and principles discussed throughout the course and to illustrate how these can be identified in and applied to specific interpersonal interactions. As with all material on this blog, feel free to use this as you wish; just include a credit note. If you do use it, I’d appreciate any reactions—good or bad—that you might have. I look at this as a work in progress and so anything you care to share would be helpful.

Discourse Analysis

The Exercise (in Brief):
This exercise focuses on analyzing interpersonal discourse in terms of the concepts and principles discussed throughout an interpersonal course and textbook.

The Procedures:
(1) Read through the dialogues presented below and select one for analysis. Try to get a picture of what is going on.
(2) Review the list of 100+ terms presented below and select those terms that you feel describe the interpersonal communication going on in the dialogue. Then try one or more of these suggestions:
• In small groups or with the class as a whole, explain your discourse analysis. Explain why the terms you selected describe the interaction. This process should help clarify some of the ways in which messages are perceived and why some are more effective than others.
• Rewrite one of the dialogues to reflect more effective patterns of interpersonal communication and, using the terms provided here or others you find more relevant, explain (in small groups or with the class as a whole) why the rewritten version is, in fact, more effective. This process should help distinguish effective from ineffective discourse and illustrate ways to make your own interpersonal communication more effective and more satisfying.
• Small groups can each take a different dialogue, analyze the discourse, and report their findings back to the larger group.

The Dialogues:
Admittedly these are overly short so feel free to fill in any additional dialogue you think would be consistent with each of the characters. As an alternative to using these dialogues, you might use one or more interactions from a film; television drama or sitcom; print, online, or televised interview; or commercial (see blog post for January 8, 2008, Dysfunctional Relationships, for some examples of suitable commercials). If different groups selected sequential scenes from the same movie, it could be used to illustrate how characters are developed and presented to the audience through their verbal and nonverbal interpersonal communication messages—admittedly, a purpose somewhat off the beaten path.

The Student, the Teacher, and the Parent
Seven-year-old child arriving home from school: I hate that teacher; I can’t stand that school.
Parent: O.K., now what did you do? I’d better not have to go to another parent-teacher conference.

The Couple
Partner 1 arriving home with a box of Danish pastry. I just went out and got us some Danish; we can have them with our coffee.
Partner 2: Don’t you ever listen to me? I’m trying to lose some weight; I can’t eat that.

Helping a Friend
Friend 1: You got to help me out. You’ve got to tell Pat I was working late last night with you.
Friend 2: You don’t think I’m not going to lie for you, do you?

The New College Students
College Student 1 (Chris): Hi, Pat. I see the New Students reception is on Saturday. Would you like to go together?
College Student 2 (Pat): No, not really.
Chris: Aren’t you going?
Pat: Yeah, I’m going but I’m not sure who I’m going with. I may go with C.J. or with Mel.
Chris: You’re all in the same dorm?
Pat: No, not really.

The Parents
Mother or Father: Your child got into trouble at school today.
Mother or Father: What’s the big deal this time? Chewing gum?

Serious Dating Partners
Dating Partner 1: So I went out with my ex. So, big deal! We’re friends.
Dating Partner 2: Well, that has to stop. I’m not going to have people see me as your second choice.

Sibling Conflict
Sibling 1: Can I wear your new sweater tonight? I have a really important date.
Sibling 2: You always want to wear my clothes. Why don’t you just buy your own. And anyway I think I’m going to wear the sweater tonight myself.

Terms for Describing Interpersonal Interactions:
Here are 100+ terms that may be used to describe interpersonal communication—a mixture of communication jargon and popular expressions. These are certainly not the only concepts and principles you might use; feel free to select others if you feel they would be more relevant and revealing.

Abusive, Accommodating, Accusatory, Active, Active and inactive listening, Affinity seeking, Affirmative, Aggressive, Ambiguous, Angry, Argumentative, Assertive, Attentive, Avoiding, Belittling, Beltlining, Caring, Clear, Closed, Cold, Collaborative, Competent, Competing, Complimentary, Compromising, Concerned, Confirming, Conflict generating, Confrontational, Constructive, Content focused, Cooperative, Critical, Critical listening, Crude, Culturally insensitive, Culturally sensitive, Deceptive, Defensive, Demanding, Demoralizing, Depth listening, Dialogic, Direct, Disclosive, Disconfirming, Dishonest, Distant, Dogmatic, Double binding, Emotional, Empathic, Empathic listening, Equal, Ethical, Evaluative, Excluding, Expressive, Extensional, Face saving, Face threatening, Feminine, Formal, Friendly, Gunnysacking, Helpful, High monitored, Honest, Hostile, I-message, Immediate, Impersonal, Impolite, Including, Incompetent, Inconsiderate, Indifferent, Indirect, Informal, Insensitive, Insulting, Insulting, Intensional, Intimate, Judgmental, Logical, Loving, Low monitored, Manipulative, Masculine, Mindful, Mindless, Mixed, Monologic, Negative, Negative, Neutral, Nonimmediate, Nonjudgmental listening, Objective, Objective listening, Open, Other oriented, Passive, Perceptive, Personal, Polarizing, Polite, Positive, Present focused, Rejecting, Relationship focused, Satisfying, Sensitive, Stereotypical, Superior, Supportive, Surface listening, Tension producing, Trusting, Truthful, Unassertive, Uncaring, Unconcerned, Understanding, Unethical, Unsatisfying, Warm, You-message