There is so much life in this collection of student’s thoughtful engagement with Stuart Sigman’s notion of consequentiality that it is hard for me to pick where to begin. In truth, I could select from any of the students’ work and weave a response – everyone has provided a “next” that invites a desirable future. To use a recognizable logic, I’ll begin with things students have suggested are definitions for, or parts of, the communication skill of nexting. Then, I will move on to the contributions that are – in my assessment – the most provocative. You may know, by now, that I do try to choose my diction carefully. Hence, I am signaling to you that I am engaged in provocation on purpose. I mean (aim, intend) to write (technically, type; generically, speak) in a way that elicits a response. (Ah, some of you ask, but what response? No no no, I reply, there is no one “answer”, there is only your decision to join me/us by posing your own ‘next,’ or resist by falling back on a familiar closed script.)

A point of etiquette:
I am changing the attributions for the following quotes (assignment 4:3) from
the student’s names to
their anonymous weblog identities.

How does one “next” in interpersonal communication?

Students listed some of the specific things they are doing during interpersonal communication (mostly with each other via the class’ anonymous weblogs) that they consider “nexting.” I will list the examples first, and then offer some critique. TopoftheMorning proposes that nexting “has to do with leaving room for people to respond to your ideas by asking questions.” President Makalele references OuterBodyBoi’s suggestion to compliment something you like and then applying it to yourself or past experience. On the other hand, Sports08 says nexting means “to try to keep my opinions and past experiences to my self […and…] not allow our own perceptions to interfere with our conversation when listening and communicating (attributed to Gym411), concluding “if we include our opinions on the topic then this would change the course of the conversation and would not be considered nexting.” Bridge of Ideas also built on Gym411: “’Nexting’ goes hand in hand with listening because its about paying attention to detail, with an open mind, and not letting your perceptions or past experiences affect the communication.” TheCakeisALie agrees that “it is impossible to talk about nexting without listening, because it is impossible to perform nexting properly without listening.”

This connection between “nexting” and “listening” was one of the specific conceptual linkages the assignment asked students to make. “I don’t even think nexting would be possible to do if there wasn’t listening,” writes Beaver32. “When you are doing nexting you are taking in what the other person and preparing your mind for what you are going to say next to better or worsen the conversation or keep it where it’s at.” The common theme that everyone has gotten right is a quality of openness – “leaving room,” “not allow[ing] perceptions to interfere” – and a sense of power or influence: “change the course of the conversation,” “to better or worsen the conversation or keep it where it’s at.”

Some of the individual strategies that students have proposed are more circumstantial – they depend on the situation you are in, the person(s) you are communicating with, and (perhaps most important) the areas of habit one needs to redress. For instance, I would not propose a rule that one never gives an opinion. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is no (one) “proper” way to do nexting, rather a diversity of choices among which we select the one that seems preferred in the moment. Choosing does get tricky, as – first of all, we may not be paying attention sufficiently to pick anything but the habitual reaction, and – second, our perceptions may be skewed, from a variety of innocent and unpleasant factors. While it is ideal to wish that we are never thrown off by misperception, the honest truth is that we probably are “off” more often than we’re “on” – or am I generalizing far too widely? (Again!) 😉

Nexting, Time, and Power:

“In order to communicate successfully,” writes Jaggerbunny, “one must be aware of consequentiality, actively listen, and choose their next word (step) wisely.” I’m going to jump from this statement right to Gym411’s critique of whether or not we (in this class) are actually doing nexting:

“I do not believe that we are achieving “nexting” because we are not responding in order to control what comes in the “next” (meaning in the future), but instead most of us seem to agree with each other’s responses and write on the similarities that exists between parties. In my opinion (and sorry if I am completely wrong!), we are being too passive with our responses for them to be considered “nexting”. Doesn’t “nexting” require more in depth thinking than just agreeing and paraphrasing what was just said?”

Yes, Mr. Gymnasium (!), proactive nexting does indeed require more than simply anticipating how to navigate a closed script. Nexting can be passive, and – (brace yourselves) I dare say most of the instances that many of you have realized as ways you have already been doing nexting are simply skillful navigations of already proven terrain. They count (in terms of the concept), but they are weak versions. If we do them well, they are familiar, comfortable, even formal (an important characteristic noticed by OuterBodyBoi and repeated by President Makalele). For instance, TheCakeisALie observes, “throughout this course so far, people have really been reaching out to others and attempting to create conversation.” Yes, it is what you knew you were supposed to do. Cake goes on to reference Masr: “nexting was something they were already doing, but they were not aware of it. This seemed to me to be the consensus of the comments and I could see myself performing it with my interlocutors and they were reciprocating.”

Now, what has changed? You have a conceptual term to apply to a behavior that you already do. So what? DeliverMeSummer asks the vital question: “now that we have this knowledge, what are we going to do with it?” Each of you will decide upon an answer for yourself.

Practice leads to wisdom:

If you’re like me, it will take a long time. 🙂 I can say so teasingly, because I’m serious. Often I feel I mis-choose the best nexting response, and the challenge of allowing myself to be nexted, to join with someone else’s attempt to next rather than insist we follow mine, remains real. Cake said it well.

“Nexting requires an understanding of what your interlocutor is saying, and if your partner is actually listening to you, they could just as equally and effectively next you (that sounds odd, but hey, what can you do?).”

Yea, what can we do? We’re trying to next, they’re trying to next, we’re all trying to next to somewhere and that “place” is imaginary – it only exists as an idea or vision or hope. It is much easier (isn’t it?) to just keep following the script. At least then everyone pretty much knows what’s going on, no one gets too confused, and most everything keeps going along as it always has. Whew! We wouldn’t want mess to that up!

Would we?

Complementing Gymnasium’s critique, Masr tells a hard truth about the consequentiality of our communications with each other:

“…maybe Sigman used this term to show the severity and the importance of the result of communication. Instead of just saying “result of communication” the consequences implies that there is a certain severity to the situation, which is absolutely true.”

Let’s look at the diction, because here is an instance when Masr has done a beautiful job of selecting a powerful term: severe. In other words, the consequences are real. You know this, in your own lives, when you lose a friend, or a relationship falls apart, or you reconcile with a beloved family member. What we’ve seen from the interactions in class is that much of our interpersonal communication conforms to patterns. I think only one person actively disagreed with someone during the first anonymous weblog interactions. Some of you are already wondering about the consequentiality of sticking with the similar. Gym411 names this precisely: “We keep responding to those who most resemble us. This separation that we create can be seen in society today.” Masr continues:

“This is how our identities are formed, most people care about how other people perceive them. Personal identities are important when communicating with people. We are surrounded by communication, especially in our class. When we communicate through web logs we choose who we communicate with through people’s identities. Meaning, that when I chose who to communicate with I chose someone that I thought I could relate to, and had something in common with. Although I did not have a complete understanding of their identity, I made my decision on what I already knew.”

If we embrace this communication fact, that our identities are formed in, by, and through communication, and we realize that the very ways we engage in interpersonal communication show our identities, show ‘who we are,’ Jaggerbunny draws out the implication very clearly:

“If communication characterizes us, than it is imperative that we can communicate successfully, as our lives, in essence, depend upon it … As Sigman declared, ‘the value of acknowledging the consequences of communication is understanding how our communications help to shape our sociocultural reality.’ It is by appreciating the weight of our actions that we can truly affect change in ourselves in a beneficial way.”

So there it is. What we say has weight. Even if ‘what we say’ is according to script (and thus accepted, safe, successful), there is still a “next” happening: this kind of nexting confirms and recreates the social structure we currently have. To the extent one is satisfied, this is all to the good. To the extent one is dissatisfied, this is not so good. How satisfied are you? What are the criteria by which you judge? What would you like to be different? Are you alone in that desire? How can you begin to next in such a way that three days, two years, a decade down the road, the future you want begins to be?

OoLoveShoo says,

“Any kinds of conversation cannot be continued if there is not anybody who is showing respect to the conversation by asking questions, or showing their interest. These simple interactions can lead the conversation to go further, and it creates connections between people who are having the same conversation which eventually helps people to create new social structures.”

All of you have begun to develop the awareness and skills you need.

    • First, as TopoftheMorning has learned, “think about what is going on in a conversation.”
      Keep learning, as Jaggerbunny is, in what specific ways “how, with whom, and about what I choose to converse reflects upon me as a person, and how I will be perceived by others.”
      Workout with Gym411 on “ways to criticize my own communication behavior with others.”
      Become “aware,” DeliverMeSummer agrees with Ninjacook, “of how [one] is influenced [by knowledge of] these concepts, such as consequentiality and nexting”
  • Bridge of Ideas asks, “Have you ever been in a conversation and [you] are not listening, but from what I understand now is, nexting. I know this is not unusual because I have addressed it in other communication courses. The key I suppose is to train yourself to listen and listen intently.” I want to introduce a difficult distinction. Rehearsing what you want to say irregardless of what your interlocutor is saying is not a collaborative form of nexting; this is a move for control, an act of communication designed to assert your own point-of-view. But exhaling in this way – expressing yourself without having fully inhaled your interlocutor’s message – is an example of the weak form of nexting. (It may not feel very weak if you are in the receiver’s position; usually it feels pretty lousy.) The possible futures that can emanate from such an exhale are quite limited: there is only the same structure to be repeated, over and over again. The hard work of trying to manage destiny is an activity that can only be accomplished through some form of mutuality (there are about a million ways!) Grant2u reiterates the bottom line: “If one cannot listen effectively he/she is going to miss elements necessary for the next ‘step.'”

    You are all on track. Sure there’s still grading to be done (did you remember quotes and paraphrases? evidence and examples? links?!), but the learning is well underway. President Makalele has made an important shift in emphasis, privileging “how I respond to people trying to communicate with me rather than how I initially communicate with people.” The first step, as with anything, is an honest assessment. Masr provides a model, explaining how he has begun

    “to realize the actual degree to which I lack true active listening in my daily life . . . in the past few days I’ve been asking myself (quietly in my head of course) what is the goal of this person’s communication with me, what would be the best outcome of the situation I’m in, what should I say next to have my outcome be realized. I’ve never asked these questions, even though it’s so self-explanatory and obvious why I should.”