Today’s college students are reputed to be well-versed in the use of social media. Do you think that heavy use of social media helps or hurts your ability to communicate in writing and face to face with important people you will encounter in the work place, such as authority figures like employers and colleagues, who are older than you?
Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category
Posted in Communication, Education, Writing, tagged Narrative Inquiry, Organizational Communication, Public Relations Writing, Qualitative Research, Storytelling, Teaching Communication/PR on February 22, 2009| 1 Comment »
In studying narrative inquiry as part of my Qualitative Research Methods class, I was struck by some similarities with my training in communication/public relations. The shared essence is storytelling.
The qualitative researcher seeks out the narrative, which may be oral or written and may be elicited or heard during fieldwork, an interview, or a naturally occurring conversation, according to Susan E. Chase, writing in Denzin and Lincoln’s Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials (2008).
Chase says a narrative may be a short topical story about a particular event or specific characters such as an encounter with a friend, supervisor, or physician, or it may be an extended story about a significant aspect of one’s life like schooling, work, marriage, divorce, childbirth, illness/injury, war, etc. Or, narrative can be on a person’s entire life.
Throughout my career, I have embraced the concept of “communicator as storyteller.” For example, if the employee communicator is trying to explain why safety on the job is important to both employees and to the organization, then one of the best ways is to find a person who is actively engaged in safe operation of equipment and let him or her tell the story.
In this example, the narrative is crucial to credibility and, I believe, readability as well.
My valued textbook Public Relations Writing (2008) by Thomas H. Bivens, discusses the information strategies of exposition and entertainment. Bivens says two of the most-used forms of exposition are narration and description. As Bivens explains, narration is simply storytelling. Storytelling is useful for both informational and persuasive strategies.
But is there a difference between how the qualitative researcher gathers and uses narrative inquiry and how the communicator gathers and uses stories for organizational media?
Chase views contemporary narrative inquiry through five analytic lenses:
First, the researcher treats narrative, either oral or written, as a distinct form of discourse. It is retrospective in making meaning, for it shapes and orders past experience.
Second, researchers see in narratives verbal action, as in doing or accomplishing something.
Third, stories are both enabled and constrained by a range of social resources and circumstances.
Fourth, researchers treat narratives as socially situated interactive performances that are produced in a particular setting for a particular audience and a particular purpose.
Fifth, the qualitative researcher using narrative inquiry views herself or himself as narrator developing interpretations and seeking ways to present and publish the narratives studied.
This is instructive for the communicator as well. The communicator frequently seeks out a narrative that is retrospective, such as how an employee learned to operate equipment safely over a period of years. This is, as number two above says, verbal action of how the employee accomplished safe operation.
Are stories in the workplace constrained by a range of social resources and circumstances as stated above? You bet they are. In using the narrative of an employee, the communicator might find out that the culture of the organization, and the resources it provides, are not conducive to safe operation of equipment.
Workplace stories are indeed interactive performances of time and place and audience, as in number four above. The employee narrative is a snapshot in time and can have tremendous value to the organizational communication audience.
Finally, the communicator definitely interprets the collected narratives in order to edit them and publish them in organizational media. Here the organizational communicator has an advantage over the qualitative researcher — the communicator often is responsible for his/her own media and has full authority to publish, whereas the researcher must seek publishers.
To me, the efforts of both the qualitative researcher using narrative inquiry and the organizational communicator using storytelling are similar. I believe that each can learn from the other, making each practice that much stronger.
The ubiquitous Christmas letter (CLs). Doubtless you get one or two. Most come by snail mail, but with increasing frequency, some are emailed. CLs are well-meaning attempts to catch up with large numbers of people during the holiday season. They usually recount how the year was a blur of activity and frequently contain an apology for sending the CL instead of, say, a personal letter to the recipient.
Most CLs provide a look back at the year. Major events are covered in a journalistic style, minus the objectivity. In all fairness, there are sometimes mentions of sadness, pain, medical situations, and loss. That’s real. I believe using a CL to bring a lot of people up to date on such poignant issues is entirely understandable and acceptable. Otherwise, it might mean tiring individual mailing and phone time.
But to me, it’s the other topics covered that, in many ways, betray the purpose of the CL. Things like all the fun the writer(s) had that didn’t include the recipient.
“In August, we went scuba diving with friends Harley and Bernice in Aruba. It was such fun.”
“In October, we rented a motor home with friends Sidney and Penelope and drove across Canada. It was marvelous.”
“We snow boarded and partied at our mountain cabin in Puberty Rock with friends Reginald and Muffy. If you haven’t had mojitas in a hot tub in the mountains, you have not lived!”
“We flew to Bora Bora with friends Sherman and Lydia for two weeks of sun and fun. If you haven’t had mojitas in a hot tub overlooking the Pacific, you have not lived!”
The only problem is, your name is not Harley, Bernice, Sidney, Penelope, Reginald, Muffy, Sherman, or Lydia. So why are they telling you this? You have not seen them all year. But they sure managed to see a lot of other people.
Unless you are one of the chosen few friends who actually got to spend time with the writer(s), I think the CL is negative PR . The communication value is about the same. To communicate, why not simply send a card with a few hand-written lines on it. That has real meaning. People cherish that.
There have been some interesting and instructive, if disturbing, events lately involving communication. At the top of the list has to be Iran’s leader speaking at Columbia University.
Should he have been allowed to speak at Coloumbia? You will hear fervant arguments on either side of the issue, but he was welcomed to speak. In the past, Columbia has not extended the same privilege to other voices who are a lot less dangerous than this person. Or worse, audiences have shouted down individuals who were asked to speak. Why is that? Why have others not been given the same courtesy as the highly controversial leader of Iran?
More With Les does not discuss politics. That is not my purpose. I see some recent events in terms of communication issues. Accordingly, why is it that we have lost our ability, or our willingness, to listen to other viewpoints? What are we afraid of?
For example, a blogger buddy of mine is currently talking about PRSA’s announcement that Karen Hughes, former Bush advisor and now an ambassador for the U.S. State Department charged with spreading a pro-democracy message around the world to fight terriorism, will speak at the group’s October conference. Sadly, much of the discussion centers on how she will likely be booed off the stage by conference attendees.
Booed by “professional” communicators? Why? Are we to believe that professional communicators are so afraid of this woman or have such contempt for her for whatever reason that they must shout her down at a professional forum? Is listening politely to her such a damaging ordeal that professionals cannot be expected to sit quietly by and let her speak?
This is profoundly disturbing to me. Nazis burned books. Oppressive regimes all over the world, including Iran, silence their critics in sometimes unspeakable ways. Are Americans becoming so hardened ideologically that we simply cannot listen to opposing viewpoints?
If Hughes does speak at the PRSA conference and is shouted down, then it will be a sad day indeed. If professional communicators disruptively boo her because she represents a different political ideology from theirs, or whatever reason, then it will be a black eye for PRSA. Further, the entire profession will be cheapened and diminished. If the speaker was a known enemy of the United States like Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez or any given Al Qaeda leader, then the situation would be different. But Karen Hughes?
I hope the attendees will have the common courtesy to behave like true professionals. That does not mean blind agreement with this or any other speaker. It simply means acting professionally, listening politely, and not denigrating the event, the association, or the profession by shouting someone down. If an attendee cannot stand the message or the messenger, don’t attend. Or, simply get up and leave, and on the way out, grab a session evaluation form and register your feelings about it. That is a more professional way for professionals to act.