Sometimes, how things happen amazes me. “Things” – that word is about as vague as possible, yes? Yet, the diction is also the most broad: there is such extreme unpredictability about conversation, and yet – if one steps back a bit, just far enough to perceive the current, then the contours of dialogue (technically, an interweaving of discourses) do become apparent.

This morning I logged in to class to assess the progress of five teams on their “midterm” projects. (The course officially ends in four days, but there will be a separate “final,” and a few more assignments related to the major Team Projects – links posted below.) There are dynamics I recognize from the usual stages of group development, including the increasing challenge I face in drawing connections between theory and practice, and continuing to provide opportunities for skills enhancement and new comprehension right up until the end. I sit down to type with an idea in mind to weave

  1. student responses to the most recent individual assignment (selecting which chapter/topic to read for our last unit), with
  2. some kind of explanatory context for the Replies (comments) that the students will add to this entry later today (a summary of their Team Project and links to the Project on each of their individual weblogs), and
  3. the basis for what will become the final self-evaluation of cumulative learning about interpersonal communication.

My routine with this course is to check the logistics folder and respond to the group-level concerns first, since these apply to all of us. Today, I discovered a message from one of the students about an assignment I had apparently not graded. Indeed, upon checking, it seems I neglected to evaluate Johnnie Drama’s post about the role of emotion in IPC. (It seems I started the process, as a few submissions are graded, but I must have gotten distracted (!) and never returned to complete the task.) Call this co-incidence what you will (serendipity, fate, synchrony, other), but the relevance of Johnnie Drama’s comments to this moment in our course is beyond words. For one thing, it is one of the first indications of what the Team Projects could accomplish (without links – darn! – and the instances (the evidence) are not presented as communicationally linked with each other, however the potential (!) is all there.) Second, JD took to heart the assignment’s requirement to “Develop the habit of reading to situate your “turn” in the conversation – read whatever has been written (Steph’s original, and any comments) and edit (revise or add to) what you’ve written so that it flows with the logic of a conversation.”

Language shows more than it can tell.

JD writes:

“…in terms of deciphering the nature of a group-mate’s emotion and nexting that emotion, I do have a bit of a concern. Using this online format, it makes our listening and nexting skills infinitely more important due to the possible miscommunications that might occur. A lot of times, especially at a large university like UMass, people of several different backgrounds are attracted to the diversity that is offered, and this will create diversity in classes. Usually, in a “normal” class, diversity can be seen (via people’s appearances), sometimes even heard (through people’s voices/accents), but not here. When reading a comment or a weblog or a discussion post, the way it is written is now more important than ever. The slightest type-o or grammatical error can throw off the reader, and make the reader think that the writer is of a different background than the reader – whether culturally, religiously, socioeconomically, or mentally.”

One of the choices for our last textbook reading is the topic of “Bridging Cultural Differences.” There were two votes for this topic, and three statements against it. SA Boy wrote: “everyone in one point in time has experienced difficulty communicating with people due to cultural differences”, while Memphis Burns argued that there is

a certain gravity to the readings when the

overall goal of the thought process is

a common good that adheres to

no superficial or cultural separations.”

Outer Body Boi is ambivalent: “I’m not sure about chapter 11 either, because the focus is on cultural differences, and although we all do have cultural differences, I believe we changed our words so that it would be a more universal line of communication. From my memory, we didn’t really discuss much cultural difference other than it should be respected.” Johnnie Drama is convinced that even though “intercultural communication difference resolution is more and more a pertinent topic in this day and age, there are simply more pressing issues at hand that should be covered before this topic.” Grant2U agrees, “The only chapter I feel that has any relevance to where we are at is chapter 12…”

To be fair, you need to know that I asked the students to make their selections specifically based on what they felt would most benefit their own Team, given the status of IPC within the Teams as they prepped for the Projects. (Also, most of the quotes are from comments to the previous lecture, “conversing toward team projects,” but I have provided the links to each student’s individual weblog.) Some students kept the “team criterion” in mind while others either did not register it or preferred to make their argument on the basis of individual criteria – such as what they would personally find most useful or interesting. Grant2U’s vote for chapter 12, “Promoting Dialogue,” is echoed by four classmates, and countered by Johnnie Drama, who thinks “It’s too soon.” The temporal reference intrigues me, as if “dialogue” is a steadystate that can be reached in some progressive fashion and . . . then maintained? Lost? Grant2U thinks it “seem[s] like there was more dialogue in the beginning of the class,” and I certainly got excited at the moment earlier in the course when I thought the standard monologic structure was breached.

In supporting the topic of dialogue, OhNOTheCakeisALie “would have just expected more conversation and interaction recently.” Outer Body Boi also seems disappointed, ““we are holding back for many different reasons;” while Beaver asserts a criterion of “be[ing] able to communicate with each with out having some type of argument.” Ninjacook agrees: “my team has been losing steam.” She continues: “our class, particularly myself and my group, has some significant “walls” to “bridge” in terms of opening up meaningful dialogue for the group projects. We seem, my team at least, to be lacking the fundamental “push-pull” dynamic in our conversations when we tend to agree with each other and the material.”

Seven students want to read about “Managing Conflict by Turning Walls into Bridges“, although Outer Body Boi states conflict “doesn’t really summarize our participation.” Deliver Me Summer, The Gymnasium, and Oo Love Shoo are both attracted to the notion of framing conflict as positive and productive, while President Makalele is intrigued by “the concept of realistic and nonrealistic conflicts.” Interestingly – as a juxtaposition of different perceptions – Johnnie Drama says, “What we have learned so far – listening, nexting, inhaling, exhaling, consequentiality, assertiveness, self-disclosure, tensionality, letting others happen to you, standing your own ground – none of it has covered what we should do when we encounter interpersonal communication conflicts.” Spicey Noodle Soup, however, argues that “we should read this chapter because it is about conflict management, which is something I have been learning throughout the class by being more conscious of what I exhale and inhale and why.” Speaking of exhaling, I am fascinated by President Makalele’s assertion: “There is no place for hostility in our class and therefore conflicts with the goal of defeat or hurt are not prevalent. It is all productive conflict for this project from deciding on a topic, to organizing individual work and finally right down to determining a team representative to compile the project for everyone.” On the one hand, I can inhale from this statement the viewpoint expressed by Bridge of Ideas, “our approach to the situation [is what] defines the outcome,” with which I completely agree. On the other hand, what does it mean to ban hostility? Please understand, I am not inviting violence, but what of all those negative emotions that contribute to the expression of harmful exhales and warp the filters of our inhales?

Recognizing Communication Walls” was the preferred topic for five students, several of whom singled out a particular article by on Deception, Betrayal, and Aggression (Stewart, Zediker, & Witteborn). Reasons against this topic were provided by Outer Body Boi (“it doesn’t completely relate to our group”) and Johnnie Drama, who says the chapter “appears to merely give the readers insight into how to discover a problem.” Masr thinks this chapter is “the most interesting” of the choices, and Sports says,

“The reason we have to understand this is because typically this ‘hurtful’ type of communication is that brings about problems in arguments… Especially so we can relate this to our personal experiences with those people who are closest to us.”

Jimi Garcia cites a classmate: “I agree with TennisFan when they talks about how our communication will be like turning bridges into walls. They say, “I think this chapter is important for all of us because we’re all going to have trouble communicating in certain situations.” I appreciate TennisFan’s emphasis on the mutual, co-constructed meaning of lying (for instance): that it is a mutual behavior just like all interpersonal communication. Finally, Top Of The Morn paraphrased the authors’ point that those messages which harm us the most tend to be the exhales to which we are least able to respond. I am reminded, reading these comments, about the use of my authority as teacher to compel our group to conform to my expectations for the enactment of this course. Emotions about the structure and process of this class have definitely been experienced, and some of them have even been expressed. 🙂

“All of this stuff plays into itself.”

So wrote Spicey Noodle Soup.

Now we know why this course is billed as an introduction to interpersonal communication! Oo Love Shoo notes how we have been “slowly learning the otherness of each others,” and Top Of The Morn articulates that we have been “exploring how [IPC] effects real word situations.” Over the remaining assignments, we will do our best with these topics. Now, an odd tangent: remember how I wrote recently about us always being in the position of joining conversations that are already in progress? What about when someone tries to join us in the middle of our conversation?! Here’s an extra credit chance: let Sunrise know what you think of her proposal by replying to her on her weblog – fast! Meanwhile, how about that external audience? We have at least one fan. Thanks Alex!

Ok folks – time to shine! 🙂 I know I will be proud of your work.