I hate this fucking course. I don’t know when I started to hate this course, but I really do. This isn’t typical Student bullshit of ‘this is hard, I hate this course,’ this is a genuine sick-in-the-gut, wrinkled-nose, disdain-and-rage sense of something being very wrong in this course. It might be the way the course is designed unethically. It could maybe be the way the course relies on pedagogically useless structures like multiple choice tests and grammar checks. I think the way I was charged for extra marks is a big part of it. I also found it frustrating to watch a lecturer heavily rely on references to Game of Thrones as a way to connect with her audience, which is a great sign for someone who’s going to tell you about communication.
The first week I arrived half an hour late, but it didn’t matter, because the lecture was over. Hoorah, I suppose. The lecture was just house-keeping stuff, where to go when things were on fire. I spoke to some other students trying to find their way too, which was super neat. This marks the high point of the class.
Second week, the subject was how to write an essay. I may be a bit easily bored by this topic since literally every other subject will show the exact same things, but so what? It’s an old practice. It’s not like it’d hurt to go over it again, especially if the subject required us to do an essay, or was going to ask for an essay in the exam. On the other hand, it’s basic stuff.
There’s telling the difference between primary sources (sources directly connected to an event), secondary sources (sources connected to primary sources) and tertiary sources (sources commenting on the former two). Of course, when you’re making a university style essay, they recommend that you don’t go to primary sources, but rather tertiary and secondary sources, to check which is the most legitimate.
Plagiarism is bad, of course; we know that, don’t we? Of course we know that. There is a discussion of academic honesty, which I feel we should already know. Academic honesty is the only way to reasonably represent our own positions in academia. If we could copy, then there would be no way to discern if a single person is actually an authoritative source.
What this mainly felt like was someone giving me notes on how they write essays effectively, with tips like using the Cornell method of note taking. There was no actual explanation for why you should use the techniques, or what the aims of the techniques was, just do it this way, because it is good. That’d be fine I suppose for a high school class but when you’re talking about things like the Cornell method and suggesting people try it out ‘just because’ feels lame and empty. The same thing for mind maps – they’re regularly suggested, but never really explained or explored. It’s just ‘a mind map can be a good thing for-‘ and that’s it. Can be a good thing. I don’t know, I guess I prefer declarative statements like some kind of fascist.
There’s also the distinction between a bibliography (everything cited, plus other stuff recommended) and a reference list (everything cited). Imagine if they’d phrased that the other way around – or even that a bibliography was a reference list with extra sources included. There’s also descriptions in heartbeat size of pathos (feeeewings), logos (you know, proof and shit) and ethos (because, and I kid you not, ‘we’ll be seen doing the wrong thing.’) There’s some talk of features and benefits, but my notes circle around and around the word ‘seen.’ This is management communication, kids. Don’t do the wrong thing because you’ll get caught.
There’s also the way to structure an argument: Logic, Persuasian, Influence. You use logic when the facts are on your side, you use persuasion when you think someone else is on your side, and you use influence when you are the side. And all this stuff just feels so fucking basic and I’ll be tested on it, as if a multiple-choice test of their wording of how to describe an idea – which they do not communicate very clearly – is the correct one.
Was that a lot to cover in one week? Apparently so. It’s hard to summarise lectures when the lectures have literally forty to fifty slides, many with diagrams, many more of which are of no actual use at all. Week three, we talk about interpersonal communication.
Did you know nonverbal communication relies on gestures and expression? Yes, I know! And it conveys attitudes. This is the sort of shit I know will lose me marks. I’ll get asked ‘what’s nonverbal communication’ and I’ll give someone a look like they’re a fucking idiot and that won’t be taken as an answer.
Bonus there’s some discredited stuff in the lecture about how people ‘look left’ when they’re trying to remember things, and the notion of expression congruence. That’s up there with your ‘lie detector’ stuff. Oo, but be careful how you dress because that’s also nonverbal communication, and if you dress poorly, you’re choosing to communicate to people in a certain way!
Interpreting someone’s body motion is referred to as kinesics, which is why it’s a shame that’s attached in my mind to bullshit therapy techniques. Interpreting how people make contact is haptics, like the devices in Mass Effect. Where you stand and how you choose to stand, that’s proxemics.
The lecture then gets stupid by mentioning the friend zone. Oh oh, but it means in proxemic terms, the distance you stand to your friends, which is to say, if you stand close to someone else even as a stranger, someone who has done this course will be inclined to expect you to be that person’s friend.
This whole course is communication, a task, which is a system of techniques of interdependent concepts that root in psychology and sociology, is being treated as a list of bullet points you can just churn out. It’s not that easy. If it was, I know people who would be more comfortable communicators than they are. It’s performance. It’s art. It’s manipulation and it’s craft all at once. And this label-and-list approach is not only a chore to follow it’s also dumb.
Does knowing that touch is a haptic display elucidate it? Or is it just a keyword thrown into a list of slides so they’ll show up in the multiple-choice test?
I guess I’m just harping. This class is the first one I’ve had where I’ve felt the people involved in it aren’t particularly skilled at the task they’re trying, and where I as a student am being taken for a ride. Is it the pastorial background? Am I just too used to knowing how to manipulate people’s attention, to pull them along, to build to a point, to stop – and make them consider the way I am speaking? Either way, when you lead to the topic of emotional intelligence as we did in Week Four, you need a good drop of buzzwords to kick things off. Listening is distinct from hearing, as it indicates you’re taking the information in, and being responsive and receptive! Hearing is involuntary, listening is deliberate! Listening is good! Listeners are more successful. Listening will get you a job, which is why they tell us to put it on our resumes later on – wait, they don’t?
Never fucking mind.
There’s active listening and passive listening, which are helpfully titled mindful and mindless. What a great implication!
There were some interesting things in this lecture. It’s when we delved into the idea of noise, helpfully umbrella’d as ‘everything that disrupts listening.’ What next? Why, a long list of bullet points then! There’s attitudinal barriers to listening, like egocentrism, preoccupation, and fear of seeming ignorant, which I’m stunned didn’t have a cute little name too. Particularly since fear of damaging one’s self image outweighing one’s need to listen is itself a form of egocentrism.
In this course we also had a number of guest spots in the lectures; guest spots that were almost universally filled by people who came across as liars. There was a ringing echo of manipulative speech about them, when they talk about trying to seem really natural and how it improves communication. This is of course fantastic when you treat conversation as manipulation – which we bloody well shouldn’t.
There’s also the way this course handled gendered communication, which is to say, there’s Masculine speak and there’s Feminine speak. Masculine speak is about solving things and doing things, you know, Man Stuff, and Feminine speak is about feelings and community, you know, Woman Stuff. Later on this was divided into report vs rapport, which would be a great way to describe it, but instead, we decided to split it into a broad gender stereotype, which reinforces it.
And more with the bloody labels and tables! Overt and covert, passive and aggressive, considerate and inconsiderate, assertive and manipulative! Interpersonal/Intrapersonal, self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship management – it’s just this endless mess of labelling big concepts and passing through them with all the depth of a wet teaspoon.
Wanna know how bullshit this whole course is? It asserts IQ gets you hired; Emotional Intelligence gets you promoted.
If IQ got me hired I wouldn’t be sitting here in this lecture hall listening to you.
You want to really, really properly teach a good communication principle, for interpersonal communication? How about this: Nobody in the world acts thinking they are a bad person. Look at the people around you and how they’re behaving and consider that from where they stand, with their information, they’re acting intelligently. Approach that idea with empathy.
The diagram that started Week 5 looked like a political cartoon made in MS paint. Big bold arrows saying FEEDBACK and clouds with NOISE written on them with the spraycan tool filling them partly in grey. Ugh.
I think this class marks where my sense of appreciation for the class started to wilt. See, it starts with some really nice, simple ideas – cultural diversity is good, because it’s good (not because different cultural perspectives broaden the opportunities for ideas to be improved, but just because).
The lecture wasn’t dumb. It actually introduced the really interesting Hofstede matrices for examining cultures. Of course, even that has problems – after all, cultures that are focused on being competitive and aggressive and individual expression are masculine while cultures that prefer community and emotional sharing are feminine. Why? Because. Shut up.
I feel at times if you’d done enough basic Latin to understand a D&D monster manual index, you could do this course just based on their adoration of prefixing and suffixing, and the repeated return to lists.
Still, there is at least one set of things I want to be good at here: The six matrices of Hofstede. Note that the slides say there are five, using an older structure. Should we use the old model, or should we use the new model? Should we parrot our teachers, or should we use the best information available? Ugh, challenges of education.
Using the current model, the categories are Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Pragmatism, and Indulgence.
Power Distance is how comfortable people in this culture are with the idea of power structures being unfair. The higher power distance, the more hierarchal. The lower power distance, the more laissez-faire. Individualism is how well the society values individual achievement – duh – and the typical self-image. Highly individualistic societies tend to think in terms of I, and not recognise interdependence the way that low-individualistic cultures do.
Note that these things have become so culturally considered positive or neutral? Australia’s an individualistic nation, not very pragmatic, and being competitive – a good thing in this culture – is considered masculine. We don’t touch on signalling like that in the class. There are too many lists to go over.
Broadly speaking the Hofstede model is interesting if narrow. It’s all self-report data, it’s from one window in time in the 70s and a little extra in the 80s, and it’s all centralised to one organisation. It’s not authoritative.
The model is really just the same bullet-point list approach to what could be underscored with a larger principle – be sensitive to the needs and concerns of other people. It talks about how collectivist cultures like long-term relationships, or how people with high power distance prefer hierarchal structures. The irony here is that this attempt to counter ethnocentrism reduces people to cultural attitudes from their background, which is a weensy bit racist. There’s a good idea here – be aware that other cultural backgrounds create different contexts for information – but it’s blurred away under the assertion that it’s about other cultures. You’ll see these same variances within your own culture across economic lines, or subcultural groups.
Then we’re back to bullet point lists. Generations. X, Y, Z, @. This is also the week I learned that when you are dealing with someone with crutches, you shouldn’t take their crutches away. Because that’s important and without this sort of thing being told to you, you might do it. I hate this class.
Then there’s this little bit on stereotypes and prejudice, which is good, since I’d hate to think we were doing stereotypical things like saying ‘All Japanese people prefer hierarchal arrangements and are sexist.’
There’s something good here, but it’s all mired under this bullet-point approach. We could have done a full two hour lecture on just Hofstede but instead that depth, that ability to contextualise and consider is pushed aside for Game of Thrones references and extra bullet points and lists. Don’t take disabled people’s crutches, erryone!
Now we hit the point in the lectures where I think I just stopped giving any fucks at all. Week 6 notes are thin and the lecture slides whizz past like I’m sick and tired of dealing with this bullshit.
So there are these things called teams and they can be ruled top-down by a fascist dictator or bottom up by a hippie trippy commune of bunnies. You can have power that’s authoritarian (do as I say), democratic (do as we say) or laissez faire (do whatever). You can obtain your power – which makes sure your manufacturing plants produce enough tanks, according to my scribbled notes – from rewards, coercion, legitimate power
There’s also a bit here on group think. Why is it bad? Ideas go unchallenged. Why is it good? Everyone works together on the same ideas. Basically, you don’t want too much of it, and too much of it is always defined as having too much. No, no useful way to explain it, just another fucking bullet point.
Groups enable synergy, which is good in a nonspecific way, but also social loafing, which is bad because people don’t do work and it has loafing right in the name. In a group, you might have a maintenance role – taking care of how the group functions – or a defensive role – making sure the group functions well with outside groups – or a dysfunctional role, which doesn’t fucking work.
Groupthink is marked by feelings of invulnerability, rationalisations, belief in inherent morality, stereotyping, peer pressure, unanimity, and mind-guards. You cure it by encouraging creativity with buzzwords and brainstorms and examining alternatives.
You know one thing that helps establish groupthink? Punitive response. Not mentioned anywhere in this is how group think can be a byproduct of a domineering social presence, such as say, one swaggering dickhead who thinks they know everything thanks to doing a bad communications course.
Groups are Formed then Stormed then Normed then Performed then Adjourned. You know what these words mean? Then you don’t need a fucking slide explaining them. You also don’t always use those steps. You might never get to Norm. You might never Adjourn. You might never storm. So really, these ‘five steps’ means ‘five fucking buzzwords.’
Give me strength.
Meetings are not always good. They can be information-sharing, problem solving or decision making, or just rituals. Some meetings are conducted under the wolf-corn moon. Some meetings are on a boat. Some meetings are virtual.
Essay writing. Everything you already learned in every other fucking subject.
Reflective journal writing. It’s a deep practice that needs a lot of respect and consideration. Not that we’ll do that here, we’ll just tell you how to write your one-entry reflective journal for this class.
Know what instils me with hope about a subject? When we get a guest lecturer from Foxtel, a company that is a wing of a media empire that has done everything it can to destroy the idea of journalism in the name of marketing. And what is he going to talk to us about? He’s going to talk to us about negotiation.
Negotiation is simple.
I fear internalising too much of week 9’s unit on public speaking because I am fairly sure it will make me a worse public speaker. There’s nothing here about structuring an argument or creating a real sense of rhythm. There’s no mention of rhetorical structure, or ideas like how to build and pace a point. It’s just state it, explain it, state it again. Sure, this will do well for people who are nervous, but they should probably not be being forced to do public speaking anyway.
Know your audience. Know your point. Be prepared even for impromptu speeches. This is called ‘knowing things,’ and ‘knowing how to structure your arguments.’ It would be great if this subject had included that kind of idea, but we’re just going to work on the most surface levels.
Communicating within an organisation. Week ten. Death has not yet come for me. Communication can go up and down and side to side. It goes up to authorities and down to subordinates, or the plebs. When plebs talk to one another it is fine as long as you can call it lateral communication and not unionising. Tall designs give you more distance from your plebs while flat design means there are more plebs to support you less high.
Downward communication: Bosses bossing bossed.
Diagonal communication: Your boss’ boss bossing you.
Upwards communication: Management ignoring you.
I love how they couldn’t even fucking say gossip. They had to give it their own twee bullshit name. The grapevine. Yes. Yes, define common idioms and make sure you grade me on whether I use the same jargon as you do, rather than whether or not I understand the ideas that make communicating easier and better.
Letters have beginnings middles and ends. Direct communication states its intention up front. Indirect communication leads to it. When you write a letter, plan, write, edit. I before E except after C.
Oh – get this.
If you address someone you should use their name and get it right.
Good thing we have a slide on that.
Attention, interest, desire, action. Attention, interest, desire, action.
Was there a week eleven? My notes are blank. There is no set of slides. Fuck it.
Week twelve was interview processes. Thankfully after years of doing this every week, I’m fairly happy and comfortable with my interview technique. Am I happy with theirs? Not really. The resume process they outline insists on jargonifying more of what could be described in terms of process.
There are unstructured interviews, which are structured around – are you even listening to yourself, lady. Then there are structured interview, which are different, because they’re more structured.
Do we need another jargon acronym? I think we do! SOLER: Square on, Open posture, Leaning slightly forwards, Eye contact, and Relaxed. Just do those things and bear them in mind and RELAX. REMEMBER TO RELAX. AAAAGH YOU ARE NOT RELAXING.
That’s it. I’m done. Fuck this. Fuck that. I have a base credit enough in this exam that I don’t think I can fail this course if I try and I do not want to pursue this course any further.
(Watch me get like a credit or some shit just based on being able to answer multiple-choice tests.)
Now one final note about this course. This course required me to buy a textbook, new. If I didn’t buy the textbook, I wouldn’t get a code that would let me access one of the tests. The test was an open-book pass-fail multiple choice grammar quiz, and it had errors in it. To do this test I had to buy a book new, for 120 dollars or 68 dollars if I bought it as an ebook. The ebook platform is proprietary and has ads in it.
You can tell me this subject isn’t about scum scheisters exploiting students but after reading it all I’ll have a hard time believing you.