Interviewing Exercise

When Jen Guzman—chief executive of Stella & Chewy’s pet food company—was asked (NYTimes, April 28, 2013, BU 2) what three questions she would ask in interviewing someone for a job, she said: (1) “Why do you want this job?” (2) “Why do you think you would be good at this job?” and (3) "What do you think are the five most important qualities or things that you need to be good at this job?”

I thought this would make an interesting exercise in an interviewing class as students prepare their responses to potential employment interview questions.

Public Speaking Example

Here’s a great public speaking example to illustrate how to make large numbers real to an audience, courtesy of the HuffingtonPost.com:

Walmart’s CEO earns an annual salary of $20.7 million. To make the same amount of money, it would take an average Walmart worker (earning $12.67 per hour, working 40 hour weeks, 52 weeks a year, without paying any taxes) 785 years.

A great brief exercise would be to ask students to illustrate this discrepency in other ways.


Living Without the Internet

One way to introduce computer-mediated communication and its role in our everyday lives would be to identify important lifestyle habits that we’d be willing to give up as long as we could keep our Internet connection. It would be interesting to poll a class on this and compare the results for different age groups, for men and women, and even for academic major. Here, for example, are some interesting statistics, reported in the Harvard Business Review (October, 2012, pp. 32-33), on the percentage of people in various countries who would be willing to give up an important lifestyle habit to keep the Internet:

·         89% of those in Indonesia and 65% of those in the United Kingdom would give up alcohol instead of the Internet.
·         91% of those in the United Kingdom and 67% of those in India would give up fast food rather than the Internet.
·         56% of those in Japan would give up sex rather than the Internet but only 12% would in Brazil.
·         56% of those in China would give up driving a car (but only 10% in South Africa) instead of giving up the Internet.
·         86% of those in Japan and 59% of those in Brazil would give up chocolate rather than the Internet.
·         85% of those in China and 55% of those in Germany would give up coffee rather than the Internet.
·         78% of those in Indonesia but only 5% of those in France would give up showing rather that the Internet.
·         60% of those in Japan and 42% of those in France would give up exercise rather than the Internet.


Metaphors of Culture

Here is a brief table that I created for use in  the current edition of Interpersonal Messages to stimulate different ways of thinking about culture and also about metaphors. I thought it might be useful more generally in a variety of different courses/classrooms.  These insights are taken from a variety of sources including Edward Hall's Beyond Culture; Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, and Michael Minkov's Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind; and the websites of Culture at Work and Culturally Teaching: Education across Cultures.
Seven Metaphors of Culture

Metaphor’s Claim/assumption
Salad/Jelly beans
Like items in a salad or bag of jelly beans, cultures are individual; yet, they work together with other cultures to produce an even better combination.
Like the iceberg, only a small part of culture is visible; most of culture and its influences are hidden from easy inspection.
Like the tree, you only see the trunk, branches, and leaves but the root system, which gives the tree its structure and function, is hidden from view.
Melting pot
Cultures blend into one amalgam and lose their individuality. But, the blend is better than any one of the ingredients.
Culture dictates what we do and don’t do much as does a software program. Out of awareness, people are programmed, to some extent, to think and behave by their culture.
Culture, like an organism, uses the environment (other cultures) to grow but maintains boundaries so its uniqueness is not destroyed.
Like a beautiful mosaic is made up of pieces of different shapes, sizes, and colors, so is culture; the whole, the combination, is more beautiful than any individual piece.



Conversational Empathy


Here is an exercise for stimulating class discussion of empathy that I wrote for the conversation chapter in the next edition of Human Communication. But, I thought it might be of interest more generally.

Conversational Empathy

is a quality of interpersonal communication that involves feeling what another person feels from that person’s point of view without losing your own identity. Empathy enables you to understand emotionally what another person is experiencing. To sympathize, in contrast, is to feel for the person—to feel sorry or happy for the person, for example.
Although empathy is one of the most important qualities of interpersonal communication, expressing it is not always easy. This exercise is designed to help you identify some of the responses that are not empathic and the reasons they fail to express this essential interpersonal connection.

Here are ten possible responses to the “simple” statement, “I guess I’m feeling a little depressed.” For this exercise:

1.      Identify why each of the ten responses is (probably) inappropriate and not empathic. You may also want to consider the motivating factors that contribute to the varied responses. That is, why does someone respond as these Oranges did?

2.      Write original (but unempathic) responses for Orange 11 and Orange 12.

3.      Write what you’d consider an appropriate and empathic response. Consider too why your response is empathic. What does your response communicate that the varied responses from Orange did not communicate?  

Assume that Apple and Orange are close friends—not best friends but more than acquaintances. You may assume that Apple and Orange are two women, two men, or a woman and a man—select the genders as you wish.

APPLE: I guess I’m just feeling a little depressed.

ORANGE  1: I’ve been reading about depression and it’s all in your head. This research—it was done at NYU—showed that the ….

ORANGE  2: You depressed? Have you talked to Pat? Now that’s depression.

ORANGE  3: You’re not depressed; you’re just a bit sad. After all, that breakup could not have been easy.

ORANGE  4: Well, then, you need to get out more; let’s go and have some fun.

ORANGE  5: What else is happening? Have you talked to Chris?

ORANGE  6: Me too. I don’t know what it is but I woke up this morning and felt so depressed. I thought it was from a dream but I’m still feeling that way. Do you think I should see a counselor?

ORANGE  7: Are you? That’s really serious; it’s often a sign of suicide. Remember Pat? Got depressed after the breakup and jumped off the roof.

ORANGE  8: Reminds me of that movie—what’s the name? You know, the one with Meryl Streep?

ORANGE  9: Yeah, lots of people tell me the same thing.

ORANGE  10: Not you. I can’t believe that. I’d believe it about anybody but you.

ORANGE 11: ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­________________________________________________________.

ORANGE 12: ________________________________________________________.

EMPATHIC/APPROPRIATE RESPONSE: ________________________________


[The types of responses illustrated here were designed to represent five common but (probably) inappropriate, non-empathic responses. These are not the only kinds of non-empathic responses but they seem among the more important.

1.        Depersonalizing involves moving the conversation away from the person and the person’s feelings as in the intellectualizing of Orange 1 or the shifting of the topic away from the person speaking to a fictional example as did Orange 8.

2.        Minimizing involves lessening the importance of what the person is thinking and feeling as in the responses of Orange 2, 3, and 9 or simply denying it as in the response of Orange 10.

3.        Problem-solving involves offering solutions to the person’s feelings as in the response of Orange 4.

4.        Re-focusing involves shifting the topic focus from the person speaking to another topic as in the response of Orange 5 or to the self as in Orange 6.

5.        Catastrophizing involves making the problem seem even worse than it probably is as in the response of Orange 7.]