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Communication: the basics

Communication:
Reflecting on what i would say to a group i have never met, who may or may not read my every word, i scrolled through the near endless feed of topics that are at the forefront of my mind. What should i say, how, is this the right time?

So. I figured the most appropriate topic would be communication. In this digital world, your words can be infinitely powerful, they can outlive you for generations, through translation and repetition, reblogs and retweets, your digital words may enter minds forever separated from your language. I hope you enjoy and find truth in these words and use them to guide you as you communicate.

Communication: the transmission of information

I see communication as having certain essential characteristics. I will discuss each one in turn, with examples where appropriate of good and bad communication. I will focus on communication within the human experience, but often referring to nature and scientific work.

These are my core elements of communication: the origin, the message, the medium, the environment, the audience.

 

The Origin: This person, organism or group creates the message and initiates the transfer.

To do this, they must first have some information they want or need to transfer. A plant may have nectar or pollen ready for pick up. a female dog may be ovulating and ready for insemination. You may have an idea on how to learn or teach. This information is influenced by you, your experience, the way you perceive that information, how you are able to send and receive messages, etc.

 

So before you have even sent your message, you have limited and restricted it to a world of possibility based on your limitations as the origin of the message. The plant cannot buzz for the bee. Dogs do not read or write very well, so that would be inappropriate. Similarly, if you are reading this in English, and that is your only language, it may be difficult for you to initiate communication with someone in Spanish, and vice versa. You may have been influenced by prejudices in forming your information. But you have a message now and want to communicate it no matter how unimportant it may be to the rest of the world.

 

The Message: You create your message with the intent of getting the most accurate meaning to your intended audience. The message itself is also coded, created using elements that need to be decoded and interpreted. The origin is also a part of that message when known, other elements of the message also become important.

 

The message is what you want your audience to know. The flower says this is a place to visit. The dog’s message is “this is an appropriate time to mate with me”. Your teaching and learning message is probably a bit more complicated, but you get my drift.

 

This all seems pretty simple, but when the encoding and packaging of the message happens, we start to lose control.

 

The Medium: is that package we put our message in to carry it to our recipient. It can often affect the message in subtle or significant ways.

 

Appearance, volume and language are particularly interesting to me.

 

Appearance I think of as attractiveness/palatability. The aroma of some flowers smells of dead animals while some are sweet (to me), some I cannot smell but that does not mean the aroma is not there. This all depends on the chemical signals used to carry the message. Though a dog in heat may be very attractive to male dogs, perhaps you don’t particularly enjoy the scent of canine ovulation, perhaps you never even notice it, similar to the chemical signals in the flower. Perhaps your audience does not find a discourse on etymology, pedagogy or science interesting, perhaps they drool at the mouth and wait anxiously for your next word. We also have the ability to combine multiple senses to improve the attractiveness. A love letter in a scented envelope, a racist message carved into a painting, the way you feel about your 7th grade homeroom teacher in a flipbook cartoon all add multiple sensory elements to the palatability of your message.

 

Volume is a different beast altogether. Perhaps your message is not palatable at all. But if the volume is loud enough, no one can hear anything else. Perhaps, a whisper is all you need because you only want a certain group to hear. Have you noticed teeny tiny flowers have teeny tiny little bugs in them? Have you noticed squirrels and hawk prey items tend not to stand in the middle of an open field screaming?

 

You are in a dark room. Which do you prefer?

 

A siren sounds and a voice on a loud speaker tells you to follow the lights to the nearest exit; OR a disembodied raspy voice quietly whispers “Get Out”; OR the usher states that the exit is down the hall on the left; OR a green sign in the far corner of the room is backlit with the word “EXIT”. Volume makes a difference.

 

Finally, every message has a language. Not just English Spanish, French. Some of those unscented flowers, they may deliver their message through visual messages, a completely different “Language”. Cats, dogs, birds, dolphins all have ideal times to mate to produce offspring, but they do not respond to each other’s cues in the same way different chemical and behavioral cues and even the animal’s shape add to whether or not this is an appropriate individual to mate with. And that awesome lesson on teaching and learning you started with… will you write it, in English? Spanish? Will you write with slang and Ebonics, or formal terminology only you and your colleagues understand?

 

So now we have a message in a medium. We put that message out into the environment.

 

The environment has filters, walls, tints, background noise, and amplifiers. All of these affect our message and its delivery. Let’s restrict this part to human communication.

 

Have you ever heard the entire “I have a dream speech by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? If not, follow the link. That message has been filtered. Parts of it got through to you throughout your life, but not the entire thing. Maybe those were the important bits, but you don’t know.
Do you remember watching the Ellen Degeneres show after she came out on tv? Do you remember hearing Onyx’s first album on the Radio with all the cussing? No. Walls blocked entire messages.

Remember that guy with the little mustache who said “We have struggled, but we are champions and we are winning toward our dream”? That was Hitler, tinting his message of world domination and white supremacy with the most beautiful colors and vivid imagery of a powerful nation. Now his messages are painted with a gruesome, dark hue.

Then we go out and spread the beauty of our religion we paint it with the beauty of salvation.

As we watch the new mass shootings or violent attacks here and around the world, these messages are also amplified via your news channel, facebook feed etc. The image of the same person is publicized as the shooter, killer, stabber, bomber. If that person does not look like you, or their name does not sound like people in your community, it amplifies a negative message. One person, did one thing. That one thing is repeated a million times. A three year old (Markera’s daughter) showed me a bird in the underbrush. My first Caribbean Dove. One Person, One Thing. This is the first time I have shared that so broadly. But she changed my perspective.

The environment changes, so sometimes the walls break down, the filters get less restrictive, the tint changes color, the background noise that was a quiet rustle becomes a deafening roar and those that formerly amplified your message may choose to smother it.

Ultimately, we create messages, encode them in media and send them through our environment to our audience.

Our Audience, however may include both the intended and unintended and they have their own prejudices, and ways of accepting and interpreting information.

The classic case of an intended vs. unintended audience is wartime transfer of messages. I have a message I want to get to someone else and I only want that person/group to understand. Or more importantly, I do not want a specific group to understand what I am saying. This is the same as with sports when teams communicate their plays to one another.

Our flowers in bloom are sending a message to pollinators, but a honeycreeper can take this cue to steal the nectar from the side of the flower, not providing any pollination service. Not the intended recipient of this message. A white male student sends the “n-word” out to his dormitory group chat. The group includes people of all races and administrators. Not the intended recipients. Somehow, you email your teaching and learning discussion to a student in another country that does not read your language. Perhaps, someone in 500 years reads your blog posts out of context and thinks you started the war of 2089. You cannot always control that.

Most recently, sext messages are a huge group of unintended audience messages. The “Locker Room Talk” tape of President Donald Trump and Billy Bush includes footage of communication not intended for general audiences. Even during the video, some statements made in and out of the presence of Arianne Zucker show who the intended audience was.

Now regardless of how you inform, create and package your message, which media you choose and which environment you deliver it in, your audience both intended and unintended also can receive and interpret that message differently.

You made a birdwatcher’s guide, beautiful illustrations in full vibrant color that represent the birds the way you see them. A colorblind birdwatcher picks up your book. They cannot identify the birds based on the message you delivered to them.

You invite a group of people to see a movie but do not apply captions or subtitles, you are unable to get your message to the deaf people in your audience. While, you can consider these things as you go forward developing your messages you cannot cover everything, but hopefully you try to consider some of this in the future.
You may want to create an accessible Powerpoint Slideshow or Youtube Video.

So now, I  hope you have an idea of how communication works. Ideally, you use these to inform both your consumption of media and your creation of messages. What are your prejudices, filters, walls etc. both as origin and audience? What environment and media are you delivering your content through? And is this the best way.

I hope you enjoyed this message and you receive it well. If you did, you can send me a message via my blog https://ancillenodavis.wordpress.com/.

Have a great day.

Leno

 

 

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The biggest minority in academia

Critically thinking about minority status.

We hear minority all the time. It has become one of those words that people say but do not really understand at the core. Like “Liberal”, “Communist”, etc. these words often have a standardized meaning you find in the dictionary, but can be used in various contexts with different connotation and meaning depending on who is speaking, to whom and most importantly, about whom.

So, let us begin with defining minority (As I use it)

  • A minority is a group within a larger group. (I think we can agree on that).
  • The minority group can be a numerical minority, meaning there are fewer of them than others in the group.
  • The minority can be a power minority, meaning that as individuals or as a group, they have less power. Less power can mean less autonomy, democratic representation, ability to make decisions for themselves or the group, and less ability to move into the privileged group.

So what happens if we apply this standard definition to all of our groups within academia?

A Thought Experiment

I cannot do this part for you.

Think of your favorite minority (M).

In your mind you might choose “Asian-American”, “Black”, “Gender non-conforming”, “Latinx”, “Mentally Challenged”, “Native American”, “Puerto Ricans”, etc.

Now choose your favorite privileged group (P).

In your mind this may be “Males”, “Active Military”, “Rich folk”, “Mainlanders” etc.

Cool.

These are all common examples of minorities and privileged groups in English-speaking, North American.

Now, substitute your favorite minority into the following statements and phrases. Replace the (M) with a minority and the (P) with a Privileged group. Extra points for publishing it to your social media feed.

  1. Even after paying for their tuition (M)___________________ have no legal right to be on campus.
  1. (P)___________________ should be allowed to work 22 hours a week. (M)__________________ should only be allowed to work 20 hours a week.
  1. Before (M)_________________ come to University, they should provide a bank statement to prove they can afford three years of tuition.
  1. (P)_________________ should pay less than (M)_________________ for education at our University.
  1. After arriving at our University, (M) _____________________ should submit to a blood test to ensure they do not have a communicable disease. If they do not submit to the test, they should be dropped from their classes.
  2. Our University should not hire (M)_________________ this year.

How did you do? Did your minority win? Did it feel good to say any of these things?

How angry would you be if that statement about your minority was an active policy on your campus?

Should you be upset if it is a different minority? No, seriously, go back and put all the other minorities you can think of on those lines.

Did you find the sweet spot? That minority you are okay with doing those things to? Ask your friends, find out where their line is.

The reality
Each of these is a redacted version of an active written policy that affects one group on campuses across the United States of America and much of the western world. Some of them were edited for length and content.

International students are members of your academic community. There are no laws that protect them as a minority group. No laws to protect them from policies that specifically target them. (I do love to be corrected though, so please do.)

I hope this allowed you to think about your policies and how they affect those around you. Say “hello” to an international scholar today. Ask how they are doing.

Go to your policy and information manual and search for international students. Check the disparities.

Good luck.

Love, Honor, Justice.

Leno

Silence…

If you know me, you know I am vocal about things I believe are wrong. Especially if they affect me and those I care about. Unfortunately, (for me) I seem to care about more and more people as I learn how connected we all are in the world. I also recognize how important my/our voices have become.

Check your feeds and followings. check your list serves and the professional communications from your organizations, your industries, your leaders. The world is a big place and we cannot respond to everything, but when something happens in your community, to your community, who speaks? What do they say?

More importantly, who is silent? Over the break or during the semester when women, men, members of the LGBTQ community, people of any religion, people from any country or culture are targeted by hate, is there a response?

Are they waiting for a response from someone higher up that they can model their behaviour after? Do undergraduates wait to see how upperclassmen respond? are the grad students waiting for the tenured faculty? Is your department chair waiting for the president of the University? Is the university president waiting for the Governor? Is the Governor waiting for the President of the country?

And you? who are you waiting on?

Tell someone, tell everyone.

I denounce racial supremacists. I denounce international hate. I denounce gender, race and ethnicity based violence and bigotry.

Now, at least I know you will not be waiting on me.

Leno

-This is in partial response to the Charlotteville, VA white supremacy gathering (August 11 2017) and violence that followed (August 12, 2017).

 

Featured post

The six P’s of leadership decisions: Perspective, price, purpose, prejudice, potential, prerogative.

Hello everyone,

This text is going to be shared in video format as well on my youtube channel so check there as well.

As leaders in any field, there seems to be issues related to understanding the needs of your constituents; the costs of your decisions; the reason for making your decision; things that affect our decision making process; the possible collateral damage; and whether we, as leaders actually have the right to make some of the decisions we are making.

I have distilled these issues into the 6 P’s of leadership decision making: Perspective, price, purpose, prejudice, potential, prerogative. Some of these overlap and some may have a greater or lesser impact depending on the situation. this is just a guideline and your community may have other considerations. What would you add to the list? leave a note in the comments.

here goes.

Perspective:

Many leaders feel they have the big picture view. They have worked in the industry, read all the books, and maybe they used to be the employee or the student they are now representing. unfortunately, it does not work that way. You cannot have had the lifetime of experience you earned and that of even one other person, much less everyone you represent as a leader. Therefore, you need perspective. A leader should consult a financial expert when something impacts an employee’s take home pay, a legal conultant when there is any issue related to the rights of an individual or group, especially government mandated rules and regulations, a health care expert on issues related to human health, well-being, insurance coverage etc. But most importantly, they should consult with the people that they think will shoulder the burden (who pays) and whom they expect will reap the rewards. Remember the perspectives of other groups outside of yours (the other company pays this, the other country did this, the other schools have this) will never be as valuable as the input form your constituents.

So first, recognize your perspective, then get some more perspectives. Consult with as many people as possible. If you cannot talk to any of “those” people before making a decision for/about them, then ethically, that decision is not yours to make yet.

Price:

If there is a decision to be made there is some judgment call. One plan of action must necessarily cost more than the other or have different rewards or there would be no decision to make. Now, you may think it would be easy to make a simple choice of do I buy this or that when the difference is price. If you are a leader though, it is not so simple. the solution you choose may seem a reasonable price to you. Imagine a 1500 price increase to an administrative professional who makes $109,000 per year. This price (approximately 5 days work) seems reasonable for some benefit to that single decision maker. However if you are making a decision that affects several hundred people who all make $19000 per year, that 1500 dollars to them costs alot more. About a month’s work actually. It is also likely that the person with $19000 now has to decide between that $1500 benefit and something else. What if you could use $1500 to get your entire family back to your home country in the event of a disaster, death in the family, medical issues etc. Or you could use that $1500 to have medical insurance for one person in the household of three or four? what would you choose?…Hypothetically. So consider price, but speak to your constituents about what the cost truly is.

Purpose:

Why are you making this decision? Is your purpose to make the experience better for your employees, clients, students, administration, sponsors? Each of these groups will be affected differently by the same decision.
If you do not know why you are making the decision, you are not ready to make the decision yet. If you cannot communicate the reason for making that decision without violating your core principles, you are making the decision for the wrong reasons or without enough information.

example: You have to choose between underwater cement and two part epoxy. Which do you choose? Not enough information? Of course not. You need to know the application. Fresh water, saltwater? If you are attaching corals, is it toxic to corals? Can your employees use it? Does it meet their needs, are they qualified to use it, can it work inside the logistic constraints of their day?

Example 2: Your employees need health coverage. What insurance coverage is appropriate for all of them? Trick question. There is no “one size fits all” coverage best for every age, marital status, pre-existing condition, family size etc.

if you get a fixative that kills the corals you are planting? have you achieved the purpose of your decision? If your employees cannot afford the insurance you are making them purchase and therefore cannot afford vehicle maintenance, food, medicine etc. Are you achieving your purpose?

Prejudice:

Hey, news flash: You are prejudiced. Everyone is. You may have thought about the situation and tried to make an objective decision, but if you made that decision by yourself, it is flawed.
*You remember how that Bahamian student broke their arm breakdancing and they did not have insurance and your office covered their bills? That was one student. Tragic? Yes. Costly? Perhaps. Representative of all Bahamian students? No. All International Students? No. All students of color? No. Representative of all students? No.

Potential:

Chances are, you are focusing on the single, target result of your decision. However, many decisions have significant positive and negative collateral impacts. These are often difficult to predict.
I suggest listing all the positive benefits you can think of and all the costs. Now think of who gets each benefit and who pays each cost. Now think of everyone else in your organization. Who is not getting those benefits. Why not? Look at who is paying. How much are they paying? Are the people not getting those benefits paying less? Is the group with the rewards paying more? How much more? Is this an appropriate amount?
Could your target group potentially get a higher benefit if they pay more? less if they pay less? what will they potentially lose (from their perspective)?

Prerogative.

One of the most important questions to ask: Is this decision your prerogative?
Do you have the right/authority to make this decision? Are you a Health care expert making an accounting decision?
Are you a domestic administrator making decisions regarding international scholars?
An affluent caucasian cis gender male making decisions about the reproductive rights of black and latin(x) individuals from low income homes across the gender spectrum?
Are you (or were you ever) a member of the group? If not, you may need to delegate this decision to a committee that can properly determine and serve their needs.

 

*Any similarity to actual circumstances, real or fictional is purely coincidental, but intriguing. please message me if you see some.

If you have ever heard me speak of my time on the Kirtland’s Warbler Research and Training Program, you would know how much it meant for me as a scientist and how it has changed my life. Long story short, if it wasn’t for the Kirtland’s Warbler Research and Training Program, Alma and I would not have had #LeonardoDavis. So this past week in Ohio for Saving Birds Thru Habitat’s trip to Magee marsh with Ronald Brown Academy students, Dave Ewert and I reconnected. Leonardo seemed pretty impressed as well. Dave still continues to do lots of different things, but for myself and the students that went through the program, I think it’s safe to say he will always hold a special place for us.

Great to see you Dave!

 

Dave Ewert meets Leo
Dave Ewert meets Leonardo

Leadership

Leaders are special people.
During a recent interview I was asked what I thought made someone a good leader and to think of the best boss I have had and what made that person a great boss.

The first to come to mind was Eleanor Garraway-Phillips, of course. In my short time (4 years?) at The Nature Conservancy, I got to see her take the tough stance on several issues and stand up for her employees in the face of government and political will. Not only is Eleanor well able to keep her cool under pressure, but she is one of the most sincerely passionate earth warriors I know. Most importantly, she would get to know her employees and support our personal as well as career goals. Throughout my time with TNC she also helped to encourage me to see balance and take time with family when I could. Though I feel she was sad to see me go, “E” was especially supportive of my decision to return to school for my PhD. Thank you E.

Earth Day planting at the Hub Art Gallery on New Providence 2011
Earth Day planting at the Hub Art Gallery on New Providence 2011

Now I am at Miami University and while the University has its issues with diversity, there are pockets where anyone can feel included, like the Center for American and World Cultures. Here, I get to work with Dr. Mary Jane Berman and Jacqueline Rioja Velarde, two amazing women with an unbelievable amount of energy. The center does an incredible amount of work, but these two ladies are especially great at recognizing the work of everyone involved. From undergraduate and graduate student workers to community members who publicize their events, they always give credit where credit is due. I think this is especially important.
Thank you Jacque and Mary Jane!
Mary Jane and Jacque

You ladies are all super awesome and one day I hope to be able to follow your example!

 

Think about ants. They cannot see the soaring birds, why would they need to? Their lives consist of the path in front of them, following the scent trail of their fellow ants. Yes, occasionally one of them will get distracted and venture off on a solo adventure. Mostly though, their perception limits their world.

Look around you. Think about the people who go through their lives following the paths of their parents, older brothers and sisters, this graduating class just like last year’s graduating class. Think about the people who are trapped in the same organization or the same job for years and decades. Think about the way they told you there was no success outside of their realm of perception. Think about the ants and soar.

Speaking to the youths

students

Today was my last day teaching Social Media Plus for the Institute for Learning in Retirement…for now.Since Fall 2014, I have taught the most enthusiastic students I have ever had how to get in touch and stay in touch with friends and family while sonsidering the social implications of their actions and their personal security. The students are 50 plus years young and my oldest was 93 years old.

I have not had any teaching experience this rewarding. The teaching for this program is voluntary and unpaid, but if you want to see what a true student can be, when someone is learning because they are interested in a topic and not for a grade or a job, share something with this group. you will not be disappointed.

Here is some info for Oxford area people interested in teaching for ILR.

copied text.>>>

The Miami University Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR) offers non-credit programming for seniors, age 50+. ILR is a member-driven, self-supporting program. All instructors, speakers, board and committee members are volunteer.

ILR offers classes in five locations: Oxford, Fairfield, Hamilton, Monroe and West Chester. Courses are offered in a variety of disciplines, including: literature, writing, science, nature, horticulture, genealogy, photography, technology, art, theater, music, current events, politics, health, nutrition, sports, geography, history and religion. Five-week semesters are held each fall and spring, with each course typically offered once per week for a period of 75 minutes. This format is flexible and can be altered depending upon the instructor’s needs.

To propose a course for the upcoming spring semester—dates are March 28 through April 29—simply complete the ILR online course proposal form here: http://goo.gl/forms/1Ma1RIa2VO.<<< end copied text

Leno

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