group relations

Dear class,

It is almost the last day! You have been such engaged learners. 🙂 I hope the labor of the class will not outweigh its value as you each move on into your own futures.

We have one more major task to accomplish. You may have noticed that the actual description of the class names a bunch of communication theories which we have not even mentioned. My strategy has been practical, first, and theoretical second. This is a bias I have regarding education, most people simply call it hands-on learning. Now that we have had our hands (minds and hearts) “in it” for the past five and a half weeks, we really must take a peek at the ways different theories propose to make sense of interpersonal communication (this real thing we do with each other). The editor and contributors to our textbook are generally in agreement with each other; as I have mentioned before, there is a bit of a problem with such a total package. Not everyone examines IPC in the same ways, nor seeks similar goals from it, nor even values it with comparable priority in relation to other aspects of human social life.

For instance, a specific theory called The Coordinated Management of Meaning identifies a hierarchy of meaning based on source – what we might call using John Stewart (our textbook author) metaphor of breathing, all the things we inhale. But the meaningfulness of all those inhales are directed by two rules that guide our exhales so that we stay within whatever we think is normal for that interaction.  One of the originators of this theory teaches in the Communication Department at UMass.  Professor Cronen tells an anecdote about a couple receiving couples counseling using the CMM theory: they consistently <i>misunderstood</I> each other but the meaning they made together worked for their relationship!

A more general field of theory that encompasses a range of variations is known as the ethnography of communication. My first theoretical training was in this area, with its emphasis on communication patterns based in/upon some common codes that are shared by/within groups. I was fascinated by the attempt to make sense of “the interrelationships among language, culture, and society” (Bauman and Sherzer, 1975).

These two strands of theory have different roots. The latter privileges code and group, while the former privileges rule and the individual. The distinction between “code” and “rule” occupies plenty of abstract theoretical attention, but the locus of communicative activity as being either the group or the individual is a crucial and determinative matter. Neither theory (nor their advocates) would attribute linear causality to one or the other, but they do privilege one over the other – as do most of us. Be honest! Do you imagine that interpersonal communication begins with you (what you say, what you mean?), or do you believe that interpersonal communication begins with everything everyone else says and means? (Recall the chicken-egg debate! Or was it egg-chicken?!)

We have talked about how communication influences – even creates – identity; and we have also noticed the differences between the relationships that happen with interpersonal communication occurring online (as we have been doing, sometimes called “computer-mediated communication“) and IPC that occurs IRL (in real life), or face-to-face (f2f). We steered away from relational communication with intimates (family, spouse, etc), while focusing on impression management (especially following Goffman).

The theory that has actually guided my decisions about what/how to teach are those that relate to discourse, in particular, I am most drawn to and inspired by critical discourse theory. It is the attention I’ve paid over the years to discourses that contributes to a sense of trust in certain patterns of interaction, my teaching (and communication, in general) is shaped by intuitions concerning which patterns are in play at given junctures of group development. I am rarely “right” in any definitive way, and I am often surprised – which keeps things alive and fascinating. The surprises during this course have been delightful: I am not exaggerating to applaud the ways in which each of you rose to the occasion and challenges of this class. We have created something special together – I hope you are as proud of us as I am!

Don’t be shy about coming back, whenever. I’ll be doing this work for the rest of my life. 🙂


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.

Back in the unit on “exhaling” (1/2 of a breathing metaphor for interpersonal communication), we began to talk about ideas for the Team Projects. As I wrote individual feedback to each of you, a process of negotiation began – a dialogue, if you will – about how to craft the criteria for this project in ways that make the expectations clear and the content suitable to the course objectives.

Here is one of my first explanations of the project: “If you/your Team can select a topic and trace its development across many examples and instances you might be able to show how one thing leads to the next. For instance, if you took “assertiveness” and found examples and analyzed each example for evidence of “listening, nexting, and consequentiality,” in the end you might be able to say something about longer-term effects (of repetition, or context, or accumulation, or who knows what but something that makes sense in the context of interpersonal relating).”

The examples are to come from our course and the public archives of the Group Dynamics course that I taught last spring. The evidence are the actual words, phrases, turns and developments in conversation that justify the example. The relational connections are what makes the subject matter real. Outerbodyboi wrote something that resonated with my vision for this Team Project:

“. . . we are communicating about communicating too much. People seem to be at a stand still, and are just continually repeating ourselves over and over again. I first felt that I was learning a lot, now I am not so sure. It’s not very fun to listen about listening or communicating about communicating. I think we should start discussing real issues, then analyze how we went about the communication flow, and what we could have done better. I feel that the discussions are almost becoming too abstract and without substance.”

Now that you have seen the Group Dynamics course archive, and you’ve been through most of a semester with me, you realize that what you leave behind (your accumulated “exhales” for this course) are a resource for the future. (As you may recall, you can delete your WordPress weblog after the course is done, although I – quite selfishly, I admit! – hope that you will not. Even more ambitiously, I hope you might return! “Fat chance of that,” do I sense a grumble…?) 😉 The point is, your communication has an existence: in cyberspace the evidence can be obscured, but the consequentiality persists.

Jumping ahead a few units to the initial data collection from the Group Dynamics course, several of you generated some excellent models. Ninjacook invites us to take a little journey down the path of anticipation. She takes us through a series of entries, starting with what I wrote about different kinds of anticipation, to King’s House, who mused, “…you can say what you feel and what you want to achieve, but that is not the same as communicating it.” Ninjacook loops back then, to something else I said about the link between anticipation and consequentiality, before moving on to AP1115’s comment that going through stuff together is part of what generates relational bonds. Finally, Ninjacook’s trip down consequentiality lane ends with a corroborating statement from ontherecliner. The path involves five people (three people cited once, one person returned to twice, and the author) who are saying something that – taken in isolation, by which I mean, read separately later, by someone not involved in the conversation – can be shown to have some interpersonal communication principles in common. Here’s what I wrote back to Ninjacook:

“If you can trace some kind of turn-taking or exchange among several people over a period of time that illustrates the theme – THAT is the ultimate goal!”

Does that make sense? If the team that includes Ninjacook decided to study the anticipation-consequentiality dynamic, for instance, the ideal would be to identify four or five people and track their actual dialogue over time, pulling out the quotes that show evidence of (in this case) anticipation in the exhale and evidence of (in this case) consequentiality in the inhale. Then, do this two to three times with our class material, and two to three times with material from the Group Dynamics course. In other words, a total of 4-6 examples, 2-3 each from our course and the Group Dynamics course, with each example as developed as possible from the beginning to the end of the whole conversation/interaction. (This is not the whole Project, but we are becoming increasingly clear on its core substance, yes?)

I gave similar feedback to President Makalele (on a variety of ways to approach self-disclosure), emphasizing that “the evidence and example has to come from people “exhales”. Meaning, don’t just find a bunch of random instances of a particular phenomena – we’re actually after the structure of our interpersonal communication. Jaggerbunny picks on me (!) and my expression of emotion; I replied with a nudge for elaboration. “Another way to think about this might be, what “nexts” follow from mine (in that particular case, and you’ll have to find others).” JimiGarcia actually wrote this exact prescription:

” . . . use the ideas of listening incorporated with how we have progressively been responding to each other . . . If we study through each response made to each other how we have learned to “listen” to each other and use the other terms learned from class to complete our midterm I think we will find success.”

Gym goes deeper into the flow of our communication, as OuterBodyBoi suggested, in terms of self-analyzing her journey along the path of open-mindedness. This allowed me to explain

“. . . how I am using your specific words to show a kind of logic… That logic is what you are to make plain with the team project. One of the beautiful things you’ve done is make a personal reference: you could go back (as an example rife with evidence for the presentation) to the exact quotes you made before and show the evolution in your responses as you have changed during the course of our “confusing” continual complex interpersonal communication process . . . does that make sense? Do you see what I’m getting at?”

Now, I would add that the influences inhaled would need to be part of the chain: you need to lay out all sides of the interaction.

I mentioned, above, that the potential legacy of your work here is not only as a learner, but also as a teacher and a reference for others. OuterBodyBoi found the informed consent process in last semester’s Group Dynamics course – I would like to ask the same of all of you, too. Would you let me try to publish something about the teaching and learning that has been accomplished in this class? (Oh, and I have a note here – for Outer Body Boi and your team, if you’re interested, and vice-versa – that Deliver Me Summer wrote along the lines of time and the development of relationships.)

Finally, I was excited to discover that Spicey Noodle Soup located my colleague’s exceptional explanation of How Words Create Reality. It is a different assignment than our Team Projects, but the notion of “unpacking a simple word” is a related activity. The description explains the process of making a piece or part of lived experience (something normal and taken-for-granted) appear strange or problematic. You might relate this specifically to some of the comments I have made about diction.  The process of deconstruction is similar to the analysis and critique that is required for our Team Projects.

For your replies, please double-check the assignment criteria in the course website. I’ll be looking for questions and insights about what we’re trying to accomplish, and also your advice as to what reading assignments to use for the individual FINAL (which will be done after the Team Project).  Please look in Part IV of our text and make an argument as to which section (not which particular author or article selection) but which entire Chapter, seems to you (today) most indicated as the best reading for us to end with: “Recognizing Communication Walls,” “Managing Conflict by Turning Walls into Bridges,” “Bridging Cultural Differences,” or more from “Promoting Dialogue”?  Give your reasons and include at least one quote from that chapter’s 1-2 page introduction!

Title Quote: SpiceyNoodleSoup

As I write this, students in their Project Teams are far along in their internal dynamics – my comments today reflect back upon where we were nearly two weeks ago, when the small group plummet began. Inevitably, there was confusion. Nonetheless, in fairly short order the new structure of the class emerged, with students ‘nexting’ from the (traditional school-learning) self-focused individual phase into a collaborative ‘oh we’re really in this together’ team phase.

The first team-building assignment (5:3) asked students to read each other’s summaries of a variety of articles on the topic of “exhaling” and my lecture on “nexting.” The idea was to work with (textbook author) John Stewart’s metaphor of interpersonal communication as breathing: as a live, organic process with the qualities of a chicken/egg mutual dynamic. Which comes first (for instance), the team project assignment or the orientation of students to the fact of a project? I continue to teach in the mode of a reflective practitioner, designing the curriculum as a reflective conversation between me with the knowledge demonstrated by students (singly and in aggregate). The second team-building assignment (6:1/6:2) involved reading John Robison’s book, look me in the eye, and figuring out how to continue (now, in the midst of all this complexity and confusion and comprehension).

Note: for kicks (and

to protect anonymity, and

preserve grammar)

I have made everyone’s gender female.


First, the mechanics: model responses were provided by DeliverMeSummer (for 5:3) and Shiny Ginger (for 6:1/6:2) yet every student made important and insightful contributions. I cannot mention everything (there is simply too much!), so what follows are what struck me as highlights: either for their power of summary or their significance in pointing to present (current, active) dynamics. A different person would select an alternative set of highlights (some quotes/paraphrases might overlap, but definitely others would not, and the overall picture would have a distinctive quality no matter how much commonality exists).

The Gymnasium (as I’ve adapted her blogname to reflect my sense of her foundational contributions to our class as a group), wrote: “Just when I thought I knew enough to successfully communicate, I realize I can still learn much more…” JohnnieDrama is rather more explicit:

you will see the ulterior motives which Steph decided not to express to us. She needed to butter us up before she bamboozled us with group projects.

Cake problematizes the conspiracy theory, arguing that if I had intentionally misled everyone, then I would be guilty of stereotyping. Or maybe Cake meant all of you would be guilty of stereotyping?! Cake also names the power dynamic: “because Steph controls our grades . . . we did as she told us.” I omitted part of Cake’s statement (notice the ellipses), because I suspect the sheer fact of The Grade carries the most influence. Evidence of this power continues to roll in via email and the in-class logistics thread, with pleas not to be held accountable for teammates’ less than ideal performance, or penalized for missing assignments (every one has a good reason, of course), or because of problems with the technology . . .

What I want to highlight is the obedience factor. (From this you can now extrapolate my general critique of most public education.) Hmmmm. The omitted part of Cake’s critique now becomes relevant: “…and she knows what she’s doing…” Well, thank you (I think!), but let me clarify: I do not “know” in the sense of being able to predict without error but perhaps I do “know” on the basis of training and experience. I know the structure that schooling imposes, and I know the roles students are trained to take. I trust your intelligence, too.

So, I am not surprised that President Makalele (for instance) can summarize,

“We have learned the tie-ins with active listening, nexting and consequentiality and as a result, more and more people are realizing what to look for in respect to these three ideas when reading something they are going to respond to. The first blog posts contained for example, instances of nexting but nobody knew that they were doing it.”

or that OuterBodyBoi can come up with her own metaphor:

Communication is like fencing. You have to set things up correctly in order to harness true power and effectiveness.”

Well, if I have “misled” you to this point of harnessing true power and effectiveness (!) I guess I am doing my job alright, eh? 🙂 Masr describes why this online mode of studying interpersonal communication enables such deep learning:

“While online, you have the advantage of being able to read what you’re interlocker says as many times as you please, and than using nexting on your own time.”

There’s a typo in that sentence which is amusing because of its truth: once you begin communicating with someone (or refuse to do so) you are locked into a relationship of some kind. The “kind” is where interpersonal communication allows us latitude: we can move by establishing new positions, finding different orientations, discovering alternative perspectives. On the basis of this interrelational social fact, interpersonal communication theorists can claim that our interlocutors make us who we are.

The parameters of identity are fixed by who we communicate with (and who we don’t), as well as by how we conduct the communication process. Recognizing a pattern of redundancy, for instance, as SABoy did with the limited range for expressing emotion presented by our deeply-americanized textbook, becomes impossible if one is only always communicating within an homogenous group. Consequentially, expressing emotion in “an American way” (if I can make a rather large leap here for the purposes of illustration) makes one “American” more than, for instance, the originary fact of citizenship that is supposedly ascribed at birth. This is one basis for how/why discrimination remains a real problem: identity is ascribed (by others) as much (and sometimes moreso) than the avowals we make for ourselves.

Our surprise guest – thank you John, for being here! – muses:

It’s worth considering whether a person like me – with communication challenges that result from some kind of neurological difference – would have benefited from a class like this, long ago.

In face-to-face versions of this course and others, I have had students with Asperger’s Syndrome. My experience is that they have benefited, and their presence intensifies the learning for everyone. Including me 🙂 The challenge of mediating the differences that are brought into view by people who do not follow the norms is (in my opinion) the point of interpersonal communication as well as being its disciplinary contribution to human society.

Here’s a great example of moving web-based communication into communities in the ‘real world.’

Thanks, Arturo, for this post on The Flying Pickle!

At the moment, we seem to have lost our only known audience. I am a bit concerned about this, as John was more than a passive reader of our writings: he was seeking engagement and . . . what happened? Perhaps his educational goals (regarding Asperger’s in general) and mine (regarding group decision-making) are simply too far apart? The last topic I had raised in our conversation concerned anticipation as a feature of communication. John had engaged the notion I posed that speaking whatever first comes to mind can be as problematic as speaking whatever one had already been thinking. He (rightly) corrected an overstatement of mine, in which I asserted that both stances lack the quality of anticipation.

Let me provide links to three different explications of the concept: “anticipation” as emotion, “anticipation” as used in the field of artificial intelligence, and “anticipation” as used in medicine, specifically the field of genetics. All three have some relevance to a consideration of the role of anticipation in communication. Storming, for instance, comes about in a group at least partly because of the juxtaposition of several individual expectations, as well as the degree to which structured institutional and cultural norms are recognized or experienced as present/absent. AI applies logic in a strict fashion in order to gauge what and how agents can make conscious decisions about the future, and genetics considers anticipation as a way of labeling the early signs of what will develop later into a disorder. In terms of communication – particularly in terms of the relationships that communication makes possible – anticipation can be divided into two broad categories, which (for simplicity’s sake) I will call “negative” and “positive.” In other words, I can anticipate the worst and craft my communication to either defend against ‘the bad’ or offensively assert ‘the good’ (roughly, what I desire); or I can anticipate the best and design my discourse to minimize ‘the bad’ and emphasize ‘the good.’ (Of course I am proposing these categories as extremes as ends of a continuum along which each of us fluctuate depending on a wide variety of factors – mood, energy, investment, personal history, amount of knowledge/experience, cultural background, etcetera – and all of these in relationship with the circumstances of the immediate situation itself.)

Track back in time with me, because I have to introduce another element of which none of you are yet aware. A colleague responded to the posting of John’s and my email conversation with a spot-on critical analysis; another friend emailed saying she thought I was rather hard on John, since I did not simply accept his offer to come to our class. At the time of those correspondences, none of you (students in the class) knew (yet) that John had contacted me, in other words, that someone is paying attention to what we do. I have been puzzling, can (should?) I bring all these threads of conversation with different individuals to our collective attention? What is the relevance of this particular conversation to group dynamics and, particularly, the processes of decision-making in groups?

I chose to ease us into a confluence of these conversations by assigning a question for the class that was (I thought, at the time) appropriate with where you/we were in our reading of the text (John’s book). I had been caught in the assumption that the title was a challenge to look John in the eye, and was surprised and dismayed to read of the painful associations he has with that particular phrase spoken to him as an unmeetable command. I considered that my experience was probably not unique, and also that there must be other interpretations. I suspected that the range of responses to the title would be interesting and open a window for us to learn something about ourselves. Indeed, the ways you reacted to the title varied! (In case you are wondering, this apparent tangent is within the scope of defining audience for the course webproject! In particular, I intend to illustrate something about “anticipation” and how we may want to consider it seriously as we confirm the scope of the project and begin to implement specific design ideas.)

Meanwhile, I am already talking with John (and my friends outside of class)…I want to bring you all into the conversation with John first…how? I create the next assignment, struggling with how to form a suitable question. I aim to illustrate how “understanding” develops: by and through our mutual struggling through associations, intuitions, assumptions, predictions, taken-for-granted meanings, and surprise developments (such as John Robison reaching out to us (!) from somewhere ‘out there,’ from his timespace ‘outside’ of the boundaries of our group-as-a-whole). The point is that when we forge connections between different events and elements we make them sensible to ourselves and others. If our perceptions and attributions of meaning differ from each other’s, then we are confronted with making choices about whether or not to invest in building something common or letting the differences determine the parameters of relationship.

What the_______?$%#$%^$%^$??

Anticipation. 🙂 In the midst of our (attempted, group-level) conversation with John (in which it is unclear to me how consciously students considered that John MIGHT READ what got written!), several other matters were raised, including goals for the coursewebproject.

“Our goal is to create something AS A CLASS. Not reach out to others.” Really? I like donwayneleach‘s passion for the driving motivation being the actual activity of co-construction, but do we want to totally disregard the audience? As getouttakingshous says: “Communicating what you feel and what you want to achieve does not come naturally. Sure, you can say what you feel and what you want to achieve, but that is not the same as communicating it. Communicating something makes it possible for your audience to feel the same feelings you feel about what you are trying to communicate.”

“…this context is unlike any other…” (Princess3, quoting John Robison)

Does the uniqueness of “this context” have effects on framing? Is there anything about this context being “unlike any other” that is important enough to convey? vertebralsilence argues:

“The difference between my communicative style and instincts and John’s are striking and yet the existence of DIFFERENCE is not exclusive to people on the autism spectrum. This difference exists between all of us – and maybe accounts for a great deal of flawed and failed attempts at communication. Could understanding these differences – isolating them, analyzing them – help us communicate better as a group? (and as individuals in the world at large?)”

Are any of our own “forehead-slapping moments” (churchofgoogle) worth some kind of representation in the coursewebproject? And/or, what about the different modes of communication, as described by sunshine775:

“everyone has different frames and ways of seeing a situation. When I start to engage in a conversation or speech I may say things that people in my audience may not understand or know how to make sense of it. I find it so much easier to sit down at my laptop and type out how I feel. I even find it easier than sitting down with my diary. I have formed some type of relationship where my fingers just fly across the keyboard and my thoughts flow from my head through my fingertips.”

“…the reason communication is difficult,” explains ontherecliner, “is not only do you have to express what you feel, but you also have to do it in a way someone else understands.” thumpasorus agrees that “… the tendency just to communicate in a stream of consciousness…” could be a problem. In other words, how proactively (how much anticipation!) can we garner among ourselves to mold the individual passions and interests of each member of the class into a collective representation?

“The thing is often times people’s reactions have nothing to do with the actual event but rather their own biases based on their own distorted view of reality… Reality occurs out there, what we make of it occurs in the mind. The question I often ask myself is where do I draw the line trying to think for others and act accordingly to that and where do I just say what’s on my mind.” (sedona1)

I would say, we are getting ready to take meanings (from our own minds, along some kind of individual-collective continuum) and put them “out there” as a “reality” which others can experience and interpret. What will we give them to work with?  It may be useful to revisit the what and the how.

I hope the Schein Team on Maintenance Roles has much more than what I’ll share here, and I don’t mean to preempt them, but I do want to comment on the care group members showed to each other yesterday.

First, two of you did remember to watch the clock, so I was able to participate in the candelight vigil “in time” with others around the world. Thank you. 🙂

While you were getting organizing in your Schein Teams, I overheard a comment in the Communication Team concerning a layering of stages of group development. This is a sophisticated notion and I was very pleased to hear it! The Team was discussing how to identify different stages, grappling with the fact that things in real life rarely match theoretical models. What <I>are</i> the relationships between observable behaviors (individual and patterned) and determinations of the status of a group-as-a-whole? Each new fishbowl constitutes a new group: they begin “at the beginning” and could get stuck anywhere along the way. As a subgroup of our entire class/group, their ways of communicating, deciding, switching between maintenance and task roles (to name some categories) can reflect the overall group-as-a-whole stage, or serve to work out particular elements on behalf of all of us, or dash us all back into a previous stage where there might be some unfinished business.

Some of the challenges we are now being faced with concern members who have been absent and return. So much occurs in each class session, and we are trying to attend to so many threads and layers, that keeping up through the wiki – while possible (and encouraged!) – is insufficient by itself. Hopefully, everyone is paying attention to the members of your Team who are not present (for whatever reason), and are proactively doing what you can to keep them in the loop.

Did anyone notice anything interesting about how Fishbowl K proceeded in comparison with Fishbowls H and I (Week Six). Several people chuckled when one of the fishbowl “fish” misspoke while trying to say “diverse” (it came out, initially, as “divorce”). A theory of group relations would not ignore the potential “Freudian slip” quality of this faux paux. There was (wasn’t there?) some tension in Fishbowl K. I was fascinated by what seemed to be almost a reversal of dynamics that had occurred before, including the application of similar strategies but with a markedly changed tone. I thought it significant, later in the Fishbowl, when the same “fish” expressed relief at Sara’s statement that she did not think the coursewiki/webpage had to be comprehensive.  If you noticed something, please reply and share your observations and thoughts! For bonus (!), please quote (or paraphrase) from Weber (on the Life Cycle of Groups/Stages of Group Development) to provide a theoretical ground for the meaning you propose to make of your perceptions. 🙂 Note this information on virtual communities, too.


What to Observe in a Group, by Edgar H. Schein

The Group: A Cycle from Birth to Death by Richard C. Weber. Reading Book for Human Relations Training (Arlington, Va.: National Training Laboratories, 1982), 68-71.

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