You Can (Not) Be Correct

I think I’ll be writing about my Communication class a bit more for the duration of this term. It’s a goldmine of nonsense that people treat as the Word of God.

The plan actually was to talk about this on Friday as that was the day it happened, but since Thursday I’ve been fairly disoriented by the cold or flu or something. Both the birthday and the Introduction posts were written on the previous Sunday through Tuesday. A rare occasion, that I write something for this blog long before it’s “due”. But there’s something special about getting something done by midnight, by 00:00 of the day something begins, even if it’s just your timezone. Because I did indeed finish it long beforehand and scheduled the post, the cold or flu was not able to stop it from coming into existence. It did stop this entry from coming into existence though. But that’s probably fine. If you have something important to say and you’re only allowed a linear presentation format, it’s best to stay silent afterwards so it can stay in the spotlight for its deserved time. It is the same with speaking; this is the exact reason why you don’t run your mouth if you want to be taken seriously.

That being said, I’m still going to write this entry. I need practice writing when I don’t exactly feel like writing. It used to be that when I tried this practice I just kept degrading the quality of my entries, which makes sense, because this is generally speaking a destructive activity. But perhaps this time it’ll turn out differently. There’s enough of a solid track record to turn back to for guidance so that I can now afford to practice less solid manuevers. It is as with any martial art – practice the most effective strike in the cleanest method first, and everything else on the street can easily be learned.

But enough meta talk.

There was another “group” activity in the discussion section, this time on what is the most important quality to a competent communicator. There was a list of nineteen traits on the projector, and because the TA wanted more “conflict”, instead of discussing it straight off the bat we were to write our opinions down first. Then discuss with small groups, then groups pick their best to present to the rest of the class. This was fine for me, since I’m not particularly a fast explainer. It does take a little short of forever to create each of my longer seminal posts.

1: Know their self-presentation, relational, and instrumental goals.

Communication is difficult. Though we all in name share one language, we each use it differently enough that, given a little time, we end up in different worlds. Ending up in that different world may be fun and exciting, but you are no longer communicating. You are being entertained. Knowing your goals – self-presentation, relational, and instrumental – keeps everything in focus. Rather than simply allowing conversations to spiral into oblivion, some control and moderation is kept. The goals give a purpose, and the purpose organizes all the methods. It allows decisive and effective choices on what needs to be done to get the message across, understood, and accepted – in other words, it allows one to be a competent communicator. Self presentation: improve your own skills. Relational: maintain an engaging audience. Instrumental: your “actual” goals.

My all-male group decided to do it in numerical order, so I read out my argument first. Everyone immediately decided I should be the one to present. I wanted to present too because I had the only solid message (I tried doing bullet points, but it was too hard). The group ended up doing someone else’s, as I could not speak very well that day and nobody could read my handwriting reliably. Here were the six groups’ chosen points. Two overlapped, so there are five:

5. Understand that other people perceive them differently than they perceive themselves.

19. Understand that individuals have different personalities that play out in their communication behaviors.

11. Anticipate variation in the progression of intimacy.

17. Are sensitive to the manner in which conflict progresses and alters behaviors to make conflicts more productive.

12. Realize that communication is necessary for maintaining close relationships.

I joked with my group afterwards about how it was good that I didn’t end up presenting, “Or else we’d look like fascists”. The guy who ended up presenting for us laughed and agreed, “THIS is why it’s the most important, THIS is why it’s number one!”

In truth, that is more or less what I would have aimed for. And why not? The TA ended up saying the standard platitudes of “There is no right or wrong answer”, and again it is contradictory: if there is no right or wrong answer, why would there be any one choice which is more important than the rest? If it is dictated by the higher authority that you cannot be better than the rest, what purpose is there to act at all? In essence this “encouragement” is the same reason why communism in the economic sense doesn’t work. By creating an environment which is “nurturing” to all, it ends up discouraging the truly ambitious and effective actors in favor of raising the peons above their place.

Let clean water sit in the open for a while and in it shit will start to grow.

The girl presenting for the last group was fairly animated, acting like she was making some kind of unique appeal, but all the groups which had presented before her made identical points. The professor said this. The book said that. It’s important to recognize your audience’s X quality because if you don’t then you will often speak past them or offend them when you didn’t mean to do it. You need to remember that the other person is a human too because they’re important. But why is it that the most important?

Why else would the TA, the professor’s representative, put up a list of 19 traits titled “A Competent Communicator:”, if nothing less than every last one of them was correct? It is a GIVEN that these are necessary to be a competent communicator, and we all already know why each of them has significance. The prompt was to select THE one that was THE BEST. Why is this one more important than the others? I made the argument I use often here: if you don’t know what you’re going for or why you’re doing something, nothing else has an order. Nothing else stands up above the rest, and so you’ll never have clear and clean and correct decisions on what to do when whatever situation does arise. Having a goal is the beginning; it is the first, the alpha. Without it there is no hope for any kind of directed sense. Do you imagine the presenter for #12 argued about how close relationships is the most important thing, talking about how goals don’t matter if there is no love? What about #5, did he or she praise the glories of understanding of perception, slamming down the supposed necessities of intensity and passion?

I like my group because I don’t have to deal with female “sensitivities”, but do you think any of them were able to make a strong case for whichever one they chose out of the 19? Did you think any of them attempted to prove that he and his choice was the best, just to in the end go and present it to the entire class (half female), just to be looked down upon for being “aggressive” and being “offensive” and “mean” to the other “unique individuals” “sharing” their opinions? Do you think he ignored that risk, for the chance for a truly invigorating discussion on what is the make or break trait of a communicator, to then therefore be recognized by the TA for a recommendation for a future lecture at an inquisitive and professional conference where there if it starts not his career, at least the first big item on his resume? Is this what our culture encourages?

Of course not.

One of them didn’t even bother to do it at all. If I hadn’t been writing on the topic of #1 for a whole year, I probably wouldn’t have bothered either.

Perhaps this is why the class is called “Interpersonal Communication Competence“, rather than “Interpersonal Communication Excellence“.

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