Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jane, you ignorant slut

Point Counterpoint I'm pretty sure I don't have any readers named Jane. If so, this was not targeted towards you! Some of us of a certain age remember the early years of "Saturday Night Live," when Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd would engage in a debate on the Point-Counterpoint segment of "Weekend Update." Jane would always go first, and Dan's immediate retort when it was his turn was "Jane, you ignorant slut." It's one of those phrases that has entered into our pop culture, and it still makes me laugh!

The other day, I wrote about paranoia and the blogging hazard of people thinking that you're addressing them with what you write. I mentioned that I believe that writing is not always a good way of communicating (although it's the one I like the best) and got this comment from Rebecca:

I do think writing can be an in-depth form of communication when used specifically to inform someone of what exactly you are thinking. Sometimes, without the distraction of body movement, pauses, and vocal interruptions, a person can convey everything they need via the written medium.

However, for it to be truly effective, it does need a follow up 'talk' ~ Just my oh so very humble opinion. For example, I think this written entry is detailed, nicely conveyed and leaves little for the imagination to expand on. I had no doubts or confusion about your thoughts.

Rebecca and I exchanged a couple of emails about it, and I think we both see where the other is coming from. (Thanks for your kind words on my writing in that entry, too, Rebecca!) I do agree that writing is a great form of communication, and I do my best communicating in that forum. I don't feel that I'm a good speaker, and I don't enjoy talking on the phone. I try to write with clarity and specificity, and hope I succeed most of the time. However, I still feel that subtle nuances in speech patterns and body language can't be conveyed by the written word. As I wrote to Rebecca, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to this is the interpretation by the reader. If they are of a particular mindset, they could very well interpret your words in a completely different way in which they were intended.

I found an interesting couple of articles about communication. The Aristotelian process deals with what he called rhetoric, the study of communication. His process dealt with oratory, but I think it can be expanded somewhat to include written discussions. He divided rhetoric into three components: speaker (writer), subject, and listener (reader), and believed that the latter is what determines the speech's end and object, and holds the key to whether or not effective communication occurs.

Communication

I think that where any communication breaks down is when you are dealing with a hostile audience. Whether it's a room full of people who disagree with your message, or readers who have their own agenda and own mindset, no matter how clear your words or your writing, they will refuse to hear or understand your meaning. In other words, they already believe they know exactly what you are trying to convey, so don't feel the need to process an alternative view. They interpret things the way they want to, regardless of your intentions.

How do you communicate? Do you try to read, process, and understand a subject so that you can write or speak coherently and understandably on it? Anyone can throw a few quotes and definitions out there and try to make a case for whatever they're trying to prove, but unless you can gather the information and comprehend it to the best of your ability, your argument will remain incoherent and often nonsensical.

Communication2 In Aristotle's process, shown in the above diagram, a project (whether a speech, an article, or a blog entry) begins with identifying what you are trying to convey and researching it. Read and learn what your arguments can and should be, based on facts, your own emotions and passion, and the ethical considerations of your subject. Next, consider the logical connections and flow of these things. How do your thoughts fit together? What point leads logically to the next? What flows well? Third, "pretty it up." Put your vocabulary and command of the language to work. Use compelling imagery with your words, but keep it understandable and clear. Finally, tie it all together and deliver your message with authority, knowledge, and persuasion. If you've done your homework, your argument will make good sense and your audience, listeners or readers, will at least listen and think about what you have to say. You might not convince them, but I'm willing to bet you'll get an "I can't say I agree, but she does make a compelling argument."

The best writers I encounter, in print or on the Web, and the best speeches I hear have this in common: they fully comprehend the issue at hand, they are able to weave facts and information into a coherent narrative, and they are able to deliver their argument with clarity and conviction. The worst come across as pretentious, spouting disjointed ramblings and random facts and figures, inject meaningless invective, and are unable to put it all together to make any sort of convincing argument, let alone something that might be enjoyable to read. (Aren't you proud of me for not mentioning Sarah Palin?) I think it really helps to try and figure out who you're trying to reach, and what you're trying to accomplish. Is your purpose to make people think about something, perhaps bring them over to your position? Or is it merely to further your own agenda and justify your own way of thinking? If you don't have the courage of your convictions, if you don't have facts to back up your stance on a subject, if you can’t be coherent, how can you hope to convince others of the rightness of your position?

12 comments:

  1. You should email this entire entry to Glenn Beck... lol He is not coherent at all... just bluster. Excellent, Beth.

    be well...

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  2. Right on Dawn. I could not agree more.

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  3. Funny how we are different in this respect, I think that I communicate very well orally, but do not have the same flair as you in the written prose. As far as communication, it takes both the communicator and reciever to be on the same PLANET, or it just does not work :o)

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  4. As a former instructor in public speaking there is very little I can add to what you wrote here. It's excellent. Aristotle used the terms logos, pathos and ethos. briefly logos is what you have to say, prepared and in an organized fashion backed up with facts, pathos is about why you are saying it, your personal involvement in your material and ethos is what gives you the tight to say it, the authority.

    I used to tell students there are potentially three types of people in any audience you address: those who agree with you, those who disagree with you and those who aren't sure. Those who agree with you will agree anyway. You want to adress those who aren't sure and make believers out of them. And if you're good enough you might turn those who disagree with you into those who aren't sure.

    DB

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  5. Gee, this comes too late to help Sarah Palin with her book. Somehow, I doubt that she has read anything by Aristotle.

    This is great piece on the writing process and effective communication. The only surprise is your assessment that you are not a good speaker. Of course, Ive never had the privilege of speaking with you, but your written communication is so well done that I can't imagine that you are not a fascinating conversationalist as well.

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  6. P.S. Love the reference to SNL.

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  7. Hi Beth,
    I was waiting and waiting as I read, thinking ... I just know Sarah Palin is going to be in here somewhere. And, sure enough, there she was (sort of). Well done, you "rogue"!
    Best,
    Marty

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  8. I think that the essence of effective writing or speaking is knowing your audience and, to be honest, catering to them even if you know they basically disagree with you. Make 'em think they agree with you by your solicitous manner of presenting the issue while sneaking in your own opinions and presenting them as if those opinions are the ONLY way to think. This may seem dishonest, but you always -- absolutely ALWAYS --attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. And, as you say, clarity and accuracy of facts is of the utmost importance.

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  9. I think Venn diagrams are the best form of communication. Although we need to invent the "vexed" diagram for Sarah P.

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  10. I am horrible at writing. It takes a lot out of me, but I refused to give up. I love your smart take on writing. Interesting when I was in college a literature teacher suggested me to take Greek to help me with my dyslexia and I never followed her advice. I thought she was on drugs or something, then later on I had to take a linguistic class and this wonderful professor made the same reference. Even though I have not done it, the way that she explained it to me, was a long the lines of your essay. Now I am curious.

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  11. Loved the title!
    I love that you expanded our conversation even further. Right now, I feel wiser to the art of communication.
    Well done Beth, and I thank you for the visual as well, it pulls it all together. And might I second Kens thoughts as well. Two people who are conversing must be on the same planet to get anywhere.

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I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you?