“From radio broadcasting to the internet, the adoption, use, and even the constitution of new technological systems are often influenced, not just by economic and structural factors, but by cultural trends and habits of belief. And because of that, I believe, they can be changed.”

I am trying to keep my hands off the decision-making process of these juniors and seniors in Communication as much as I possibly can. What I mean is, I want to share my perceptions in terms of how particular witnessed behaviors/patterns “fit” particular types of theoretical categories, but I don’t want to skew their visioning in the direction of satisfying me just ’cause I’m the teacher. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true (!), however when we engage that tug-of-war I want them to understand and observe their choices and behaviors in a group-stages frame.

We’re still struggling with the notion of framing and its application/relevance in real-life. I’ve been asked for more concrete examples, even hypothetical ones (in regards to this topic and certain homework assignments). I know examples help – and – pedagogically and in principle, I resist using hypothetical illustrations. The reasons have to do with my belief in the significance of differences between the ritual and transmission models of communication.

Words matter, obviously, in the immediate act of communicating something: the choice of language (technically, diction) – one person (say, the “giver”) either “transmits” a message faithful to what he or she intends or fails to do so. Likewise, others who hear the words either “receive” the “message” as it was “meant,” or fail to do so. If conveying meaning is straightforward, then this linear model of transmission from “here (me)” to “there (you)” suffices:

“What time is it?”


No problem, right? If you want to be fussy, you might notice I wrote 2:10 instead of 2:11 and, if you’re so inclined, possibly infer some additional meaningfulness about me (such as, she thinks approximation is adequate/appropriate in this situation). Generally, a basic answer to a request for information satisfies the form (question:answer), and also suggests an overall frame (time is important, questions about time must be answered directly).

If the response obviously has layers, then interpretation becomes more obvious:

“What time is it?”

“Time for office hours.”

Now, you have to wonder about my stance regarding office hours: are they “good” or “bad”? Do I like or dislike them? Is that response representative of my overall orientation to office hours or a reflection of my attitude in the moment? You cannot decide the “meaning” of the answer without making inferences. Do you decide the “meaning” based on what you know of me, or do you decide the “meaning” based on a projection of your own attitudes? Depending upon the co-created meaningfulness – whether we accomplish “understanding” smoothly or with difficulty – we begin to craft the parameters of possibility for relatedness and communication. If we get into a groove (by repeating any particular dynamic), we set in motion a trajectory for our communication and hence, actually pattern the potentials of social accomplishment.

The theoretical distinction between relying upon a (standard, traditional) transmission model and the alternative (but actually older) ritual model leads to two particular conclusions about the use of hypotheticals:

  1. If I use hypotheticals, I model that the use of hypothetical examples is acceptable. (Yet, this is a common educational frame that I am trying to move us away from because it is based on the linear premise that I can “transmit” a definition to you via a “clear” example.)
  2. If I use hypotheticals, the content of that example could introduce an element into our group dynamic that may or may not be illustrative or representative of our group. (Hence, I prefer to wait until real life examples occur, spontaneously, within our group.)

The underlying point is that words may matter even more than we usually imagine. A colleague provides a primer on why we might care to mess with simple words that illustrates the power of language to establish social realities. The exercise he used with students aims at deconstructing labels; the principle, however, is the same for the pedagogical use of examples, and applies equally well to the particular jargons (phrases, terminologies, slangs, inside jokes, etc.) that any group inevitably develops.

On the last test (#5), someone took advantage of the opportunity to give me feedback to say: “I really, really like the Schein group focused on communication in the sense of body language & so forth. I think this group’s role is vital in bringing something new/interesting to the table.” I agree! 🙂 So far, all the teams have been focused on learning what to observe, and collecting those observations. The next step is to begin to name patterns (if any are clear) and then to speculate about what these patterns might “mean” in terms of showing/teaching us about our own particular group dynamic, and the concepts of group dynamics in general. Everyone (on each team, regardless of your “area”) ought to be developing attentiveness toward phrases, labels, terms, descriptions, or other patterns of speaking that repeat or recur during in-class discussions, weblog postings, and/or any of your Schein Team meetings.