Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Combining the Personal with the Professional

I have spent way too much time in my life working. Technically, my full-time job is being a student, even though I am paying for my education instead of being paid. This is an interesting job because we tend to be professional with our professors, but we tend to be personal with our “co-workers,” our classmates. I could go on forever about this lifelong job I’ve embraced, but in this blog I’m going to talk about my more official jobs—the ones I have been paid to do. Not counting my job as an unpaid and under-appreciated babysitter to my younger siblings, I starting working at the age of 14. I started out working as a cashier at Burger King, then I moved on to become a hostess at On the Border, and finally I ended up as a hostess at the Bridgetown Millhouse, where I have been working for the past two years.

On more than one occasion, my job as a hostess at the Bridgetown Millhouse Inn has led me to give criticism to my fellow hostesses. One girl in particular—I’ll call her Sonya for the sake of convenience, even though that’s not her name—that I worked with often made many mistakes, almost every night. These mistakes can include miscalculating or misprinting checks, seating guests at the wrong tables, giving the cooks and servers the wrong messages, etc. Although many of my co-workers have brought these issues up with our manager, Sonya is just so polite and sweet to our guests that our manager never wanted to fire her. Meanwhile, I am left behind to try to correct her mistakes. I use certain communication strategies based on a consideration of her listening style when I give her criticism. I realized she is a people-oriented listener because with every new encounter, Sonya “seek[s] common interests with the speaker and [is] highly responsive…[she is] interested in the speaker’s feelings and emotions ” (Campbell Eichhorn 136). Additionally, I thought about how she often falls into common listening misbehaviors: she monopolizes conversations because her favorite thing to talk about is her life and the people in her life to anyone who will listen. Also, she partakes in a form of ambushing—while she does not, like most ambushers, “listen for information that they can use to attack the speaker,” she is, in fact, guilty of the next aspect of ambushing: “often ambushers interrupt the speaker. They do not allow the speaker to complete his thought and jump to conclusions. Ambushers make assumptions and get ahead of the speaker by finishing his sentences” (Campbell Eichhorn 141), and Sonya definitely looks for opportunities to interrupt the speaker, vaguely connecting whatever the speaker was saying to a story about herself or her friend, etc. Her ultimate aim in every conversation seems to be just to start talking about people she knows. With all of this in mind, I keep my criticism of her brief so she cannot seize control of the conversation while I am trying to teach her something; also, I use person-friendly language with her so as to not hurt her feelings and to appeal to her people-oriented sensitivity. She receives all of the criticism well enough, technically; she usually provides feedback, listens attentively (ears, self, eyes and heart, as the Chinese character demonstrates), and walks away comprehending what I’ve criticized and what I recommend her to do better in. Still, it does not always sink in—either that, or Sonya is a creature of habit, and does not know how to break a bad one easily.

I get along fine with my co-workers. My mother is a server in this restaurant, and our relationship is great. Another server is my friend Nick, who got me and my mom our jobs there. Since I’ve been at school, our relationship has boiled down to just talking at work; sometimes this is a bit awkward because it’s hard to pick up where we left off if we haven’t seen each other in months, and often we end up just small-talking. All of the other servers I communicate easily with, because I relate to each of them in one aspect or another. As for my supervisor, the manager, I get along well with him, too: when we’re not busy working, we talk about current global issues (he’s European and speaks six languages), my studies, literature, or relationship issues. In fact, he has even taken my mom and me out for brunches and joined us for family barbecues. Consequently, my manager has gotten to know us well both at work and outside of work, so he trusts both of us with any and every task we feel capable of handling.

The Leader-Member Exchange theory states that the relationship between superiors and subordinates will not be the same for every worker. This is true especially in my workplace, because individual servers and hostesses have different relationships with the manager and the owners. I have a very good relationship with my superiors and can often get away with things that others might not be able to. I can use this theory to improve my role on the job by rectifying the system. In other words, I should try to make sure my fellow subordinates are getting treated as well as I am, rather than unfairly perpetuating favoritism. My satisfaction and overall comfort—even my self-esteem and sense of affiliation, as Maslow points out—might increase if I make the work environment better for everyone. My personal life would also reap the benefits of this because I would feel more productive and more aware of my role as a good employee at my part-time job, which would lead to my feeling better about my capabilities as a worker in general.

As for the EQ test, my score was 132: “much higher than average.” The questions were straightforward, and I feel that my results were accurate because I am very much a friendly, curious, easily captivated and passionate person. The text under my score stated, “You are able to express your feelings clearly in appropriate situations…You deal effectively with stress, interact with others and communicate adequately…You are able to motivate yourself, find the energy and the strength necessary to complete what you need to do to reach your goals. You are one of the resilient people who bounce back after major drawbacks, survive hardship without bitterness, and still manage to empathize with others. These skills will certainly bring you long-term benefits such as stronger relationships, better health and personal happiness.” My score directly relates to my ability to give and take criticism because it shows how adaptable and people-centered I am. I don’t take criticism personally; maybe if I were more egotistical, or less adaptable, then I would take criticism to heart. As I am now, I still know I have a lot to learn, so I appreciate constructive criticism. Also, I tend to see the best in everybody, and I couldn’t hold a grudge to save my life.

What’s interesting is despite everything I just said, when asked to fill in the blank, when I am criticized I feel ____, the first word that came to my mind was disappointed. All the words I’ve used up until this point have been positive, but I must admit that my initial response to criticism is none of those things. Although I do get over criticism more quickly than most people I know, that is just the ultimate outcome—the initial outcome when I receive criticism is I feel disappointed. I hold myself to high standards and put my whole heart into everything I do, so whenever I do something poorly, make mistakes, and get criticized, I do feel bad for a little while. However, if I didn’t, that would mean that I don’t care too much about doing my best, which of course is not true; so, as always, there's a flip side to everything.

It took me awhile to come up with a poem, book, or song to relate to this passage, but I finally thought of one. "Taxman," written by George Harrison and performed by the Beatles, is a brilliant, wry and funny perspective on the reality of living, working and getting your hard-earned money taken away by government taxes. Here's a link to listening to the song for free: Taxman.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Communication Audit

I asked a few different friends about their perceptions of me, my verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and the topics I normally feel comfortable discussing. One friend in particular, Jenn, talked to me at length about everything. After reflecting, I spent too long creating a mind map that doesn’t look half as nice as Josh Chave’s.

I tried to find shapes to color in that relate to the topic in some way, and I fashioned them bigger or smaller depending on the amount I know about that topic. For example, I’m abysmally uninformed when it comes to pop culture (hence the small can in grey), but I have done a decent amount of researching politics today (the four-way arrows demonstrate the breadth and extension of this election) (here's the most recent article I read). I still have plenty to learn, however, and I left white space in the section to designate that. As for the subdivision “Education,” Jenn pointed out that we share our experiences with each other of our classes and professors, even though we don’t have the same classes for the most part and therefore cannot really know much about the topic. This is an example of the Uncertainty Reduction Theory because we’re communicating to increase predictability (Campbell Eichhorn 65). Cultural awareness and world view are the main motivators of my curiosities, and they shape my subjectivity (Campbell Eichhorn 62). I colored in less than half of that section, because how could anyone possibly know everything about the world? As for “The Human Condition,” Jenn helped me distinguish between the aspects which simply require life experience to discuss (i.e. the possibility of utopia), the features that are debatable (i.e. the human urge for divinity), and the facets which require book smarts (i.e. the lack of minority writers in our literary canon and how this reflects our society). I illustrated that while I appreciate a good amount, I still have so much to explore. Of course, what I discuss and how I talk about it differ with each person. The textbook authors label this context (Campbell Eichhorn 63), but I have always called it using discretion. We all must be aware that what we say and how we say it should change depending on who we are speaking with.

I feel comfortable talking about 9/10 of these subjects because they are what interest me most. Although I don’t know much within the tenth topic—General Media, Pop Culture, and Miscellaneous Items—I feel comfortable in a discussion because my mannerisms save me. My friends mentioned that I am a good listener, and this is what translates to being able to uphold a conversation about something I’m unfamiliar with. My friends claimed that I never seem cornered or stumped by any topic. What they may not realize is that I use selection (Campbell Eichhorn 116) when listening—I focus on something that I do know about or relate to in my companion’s speech, and when he or she is done speaking, I’ll emphasize that thing in my response. Additionally, I try to ask the right questions about things I’m unfamiliar with until I get a sense of them.

Unintentionally, my friends’ descriptions of my nonverbal communication highlighted some of the nine forms. Kinesics is the primary one, of course. My friends said that while I seem cultured and smart, I also use my physical appearance (Campbell Eichhorn 96) and body language to give off the impression of being approachable, warm, and capable of befriending everybody. This goes back to Erving Goffman’s Dramaturgical Model: I shape others’ impressions of me through my friendly image and positive convincing behaviors. I am definitely one who is “always working to convince others to accept the impressions [I] desire.” A second aspect of my nonverbal communication is that I don’t at all filter my facial communication (Campbell Eichhorn 90) in intimate settings. My friends can tell when I don’t like an idea: I purse my lips, cock my head to one side like a puppy, and pull faces, which may include but are not limited to disbelief, disgust, annoyance, confusion, anger, or indifference. My friends also said that I make a lot of eye contact while listening and speaking fluently, but when I’m thinking hard, I look up and away from them. In terms of silence, I tend to take pauses frequently to gather my thoughts, to decide how to properly phrase an idea, and/or for dramatic effect. The only thing my friends did not agree on is my use hand gestures. Some said I use them often, and exaggeratedly; others said I hardly use them, and not excessively. As for proxemics, my American close friends and I all keep a good distance. A funny contrast to this is the way our French friends behave: they get really close when speaking one-on-one. To us, that is clearly defined as an invasion of our comfort zone (Campbell Eichhorn 94), but to them it’s normal.

I’ve rarely been to the doctor because I don’t have any disorders or vaccinations to keep up with, so I don’t have any fear or anxiety over doctors. I haven’t had a cavity since pre-school, so again, no trauma when it comes to dentists. I’m comfortable with authority figures. I’m familiar with special needs people because my little brother has autism. However, one situation that I get anxious over whenever I think about it is how to motivate kids to read. I want to be an English teacher, but one of my biggest fears is that I’m going to have a roomful of students that despise reading, and I won’t know how to motivate them to feel differently about books. I imagine when the time comes I’ll go through all four stages of anxiety: anticipatory, confrontational, adaptation, and release. Although I intend to stick to the Protocol of assertive communication—having a dual perspective, sending clear nonverbal messages, and using a confident voice and convincing body language—this has not completely worked in the past.

What I’m referring to is my failed attempts to get my 13-year-old sister to read. One of the biggest frustrations in my life is the fact that I, JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer have all failed to change her attitude. Because of this experience, I feel anxious about having a roomful of students who either don't like to read, don't feel motivated to, or like to but don't have the guts to be that one kid in class who enjoys the subject (which my group will discuss later—our theory is called “The Spiral of Silence” and explains the reasons behind such a silence). I have read the inspirational "To Sir With Love" and it actually added to my anxiety. I would like to think that I will be able to take control of the class and encourage them to want to learn like the author did, but I really won’t know until the time comes. Until then, I can adjust my nonverbal and various communication channels to better tune into the mindset of people (like my sister) who don’t enjoy reading. I can take extra time to listen to my little sister’s reasons for why she doesn’t like reading, and practice the dual perspective to try to reach out to her (Campbell Eichhorn 133). I can utilize discriminate, appreciative, comprehensive, evaluative, and empathetic listening to better understand where she’s coming from, and then offer non-confrontational suggestions that appeal to her interests. In the past, I engaged in monopolizing or defensive listening (Campbell Eichhorn 140-141) when talking to my sister about her lack of motivation for reading. I would get upset at her for having a different point of view (monopolizing), and to make up for my failed attempt to motivate her, I’d try to save face (defensive listening). I’ll be aware of these common listening misbehaviors next time I speak to her, and I’ll make an effort to avoid them.

Another poem:

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other'
doesn’t make any sense."