Listen. Think. Speak. Write.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Brag List

I have extremely high standards. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of students willing to complain about those standards. Just take a look at this semester’s grade distribution.   I maintain those high expectations for everything.  EVERYTHING (except maybe the puppy’s potty training, but I’ll let that one lie).  I just want people (and things and maybe someday puppies) to live up to their potential.
Here’s the thing. If I have high standards for other people, my goals for myself are lofty, bordering at times on unattainable.  Given that I appear to be suffering through some sort of mid-life crisis my summer to do list balloons each day with new projects or ideas for hobbies I’d like to pick up.  I can’t possibly do them all, which leads to the biggest problem with my high standards.
Disappointment with myself.
Our own self-talk can often be the most dangerous influence on our self-esteem.  Most people can easily list what they don’t like about themselves or something they’d like to change.  Heck, I’ll even share ten of the top of my head.
The downer list
1.       I have too many wrinkles and too much cellulite.
2.       I’m overly emotional.
3.       I write with too much tell and not enough show.
4.       I eat too much junk food.
5.       I get frustrated with my kids too easily.
6.       I’m a terrible puppy trainer. J
7.       I set unrealistic goals.
8.       I get bored with hobbies and projects easily.
9.       I don’t hide my emotions well.
10.   My desk is always a disaster.
One of my favorite self-talk tools is the brag list, essentially the counter-balance to the downer list. I have my students in interpersonal communication create a list of 20 brags.  Then, they have to share some of their brags in conversation.  Inevitable, students complain about the concept of bragging, but in the end they learn a couple of important lessons: (1) thinking positively requires work, but it feels good and (2) other people will often confirm your positive characteristics, thus improving self-esteem even more.

My Brag List
1.       I am a good speaker.
2.       I have written 2 novels.
3.       I’m good at my job.
4.       I have great kids.
5.       I’ve been successfully married for nearly 12 years.
6.       I am an excellent vacation planner.
7.       I’m an effective dance mom.
8.       I’m very efficient.
9.       I run 3 miles every other day.
10.   I make awesome chocolate chip cookies.
Brag lists are hard to make.  I’m only doing an abbreviated version here, and I had to resist qualifying the positives (i.e.: I wrote 2 novels, but they probably won’t be published).  I encourage students to make one of these lists on a regular basis.  It’s not only a good exercise for positive thinking in general, it can help you see how things that were once downers evolved into brags.  Neither our positive nor our negative characteristics are static. 
So, this summer, I’m working on downer #3.  Maybe, in the future I won’t be tempted to qualify #2 on the brag list.
What's on your brag list? Any downers you are working into brags?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jelly or Bavarian Cream?

This week I got one of those emails from a student that makes everything I do as a professor worthwhile. Beyond the cherish-worthy gushing, one thing pleased me most.  Something I taught her stuck with her.  Yes, it would be great if students would send me lists of things they learned in my class that they retain long after they leave, but I’ll take just one.  It’s better than none.
She wrote, “It is funny, for some reason I keep going back to an assignment you gave me. I don't remember exactly, but it was basically a pie chart of what makes us who we are. Every once in a while I visualize that, and how it has changed just over that last few years, and imagine how it might change as my life continues to grow and change.”
The entire first unit of my intercultural communication course is focused on exploring one’s own culture. The fundamental premise is that you can’t interact well with someone who is different than you if you don’t know who you are and why. So, the assignment she mentioned is one where students list all of the subcultures (micro, co, whatever term the textbook uses).  Then they have to consider how important that component is to their identity by creating a pie chart (Sample is NOT mine, by the way).

Among the points, I hope students take away are (and I usually have one):
  • People are complex.
  • People have multiple identities, many of which we cannot see by looking at them.
  •  People who look like us on the outside may be very different on the inside.
  •  People change.
I can list the components of my identity next week, next month, next year, and there will be differences.  I might add or delete ingredients to my pie (For example, maybe I’ll be able to add “author” someday), or perhaps, the sizes of the pieces will grow or shrink.
Simple lesson, right?  Except it’s easy to forget those take away points in our day to day lives.  Ever get all excited about a box of chocolates or a donut until you take a bite and discover your expectations were way off base? Ever had someone treat you as if you were the same person you were five years ago?  I kept getting Barbie dolls for gifts long after I played with them because some relatives couldn’t see the change.
What I liked best about the student’s email is that she got the most important part.  Knowing what’s inside you matters as much, if not more than, figuring out whether the chocolates have caramel or strawberry cream filling.
For some reason, it makes me think of TLC's Unpretty, different context, similar message. "But if you can't look inside you..."


Friday, May 13, 2011

What's your story?

Most people think the hardest part about taking a class in public speaking would be, well, the speaking.  Given that 75% of all people experience speech anxiety, that would make sense.  However, there is a component of the course that throws more people for a loop than they expect: choosing a topic.
Unlike real life, in public speaking class, topic selection is a contrived exercise.  In life, generally topics evolve from the context.  You’re invited to speak because you’re an expert in something (such as communication—yes, I am available), you are moved to speaking because you feel strongly about something  (such as a policy at work or in your local community), or maybe you’re forced to speak for a job requirement or volunteer work.  In any case, while you may have choices about how to narrow your ideas, you don’t have to decide on a message out of thin air.  Some students claim to have no opinions while others have too many.  Ultimately, the topic a student chooses is an extension of their “voice.”
If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you’ve heard them repeat over and over how important song choice is for the contestants.  Why is it so critical?  While many contestants have amazing vocal talent, audiences connect to “voice” on a different level.  Ultimately, the song is both a message and a channel through which a contestant tells you they are. It’s the story he or she wants to tell.  An audience of any kind wants to know your story.
What is your story?
What is your point?
What should I take away?
I watch presentations every semester where in the back of my mind, I can’t figure out what I was supposed to learn, why I should take the time to listen. I’ve read a lot of books that were interesting, and the prose painted lovely pictures, but at the end, I walked away dissatisfied because I couldn’t figure out my take-away.
Being focused on your message is essential in all of these contexts.  It’s a life lesson, really.  Of course, we’ll go off on fabulous tangents, and we’ll be distracted by a bad note here or there, but it’s far easier to achieve a goal when you’re clearly defined it in the beginning.
So, what IS your story?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Finding Your Voice

So, here I am. I've been pondering a blog for ages, and I'm finally putting myself out there. Only a few short years ago, I complained that MySpace and Facebook were too individualistic for me. Yet here I am adding one more voice to the cacaphony.

My hold out has been purpose.  Am I here for personal or professional reasons? About what will I post? The answer is, both. I can't separate the pieces of my identity because they all comprise my voice.

I hated grad school. I didn't feel smart enough, and I didn't even know if I wanted to be a college professor. I wanted to drop out and move to Mexico. Thankfully, parents and my masters advisor prevailed because shortly thereafter, I found my purpose, my reason for being a scholar of communication.

I believe in the power of voice--expressing your own as well as listening to others'--and teaching communication has given me a powerful platform for both. Now, as I embark on a new journey, voice takes on another meaning. In writing, voice is the intangible quality that makes fiction unique, that gives emotion, meaning, and life to plots and characters.

Though multifaceted and contradictory, I no longer struggle with my personal voice. I feel as comfortable as a dance mom as I do teaching feminist theory.  It's about embracing all of me, about understanding how they come together,  how all our pieces fit together.  Finding my voice in fiction, that's still a challenge.  I think, though, that it comes from the same place as my other voice. It's confidence in character.  It's knowing yourself and your purpose.  At least, I hope so.

Here's what a few others have to say on the subject: