Thursday 17 September 2020

No, after you

Old joke. Woman meets a faerie in the forest and is granted one wish. She asks "that all my sons be prefect gentlemen".  Within the year she has fallen pregnant. The due-date comes . . . and goes . . . and nothing seems to be happening. A bit late, maybe, but she has an ultrasound which reveals twins. The heart-beats are fine, no fetal distress, so her professionals let nature take its course. Months pass. Eventually the Ob&Gyn puts a stethoscope up to the mother's abdomen and hears "After you, sir . . . no, no, after you . . . I insist old chap . . .

I am a bit of a fanboy about the Lingthusiasm Podcast. I downloaded a bunch of them and have been listening in when I'm dishwashing or driving. Then I have to listen again with my notebook a-ready because there's so much useful information and I'll forget it else. Actually McCulloch and Gawne, the Lingthusiasts, make it really easy with an excellent website which includes transcripts of each episode. I was on about their schwanalysis last week. The attention to detail is evident because their episode on turn-taking and conversation briefly explores the nature of transcription - a service for which they pay a professional. The transcription which makes it easy for you-and-me to read and maybe clip a quote from has been editted for clarity [removal of all the erm ah umm conversational place-holders for starters]. A conversation analyst [that's a job, like bus-driver or electrician] would require a much greater level of detail and times: because a long pause might be a key datum.

And the transcription misses all the gestures which are important for interlocutors to gain or cede, or not cede "The Floor". For the latter, it is not [normally] a question of just barrelling on and raising your voice, although that helps. If your voice goes ↑up↑ at the end of a phrase, or you pack the pause with erm umm I think or you raise your finger . . . hand  . . . forearm - all these indicate that you're not finished. Some of these clues will be missing in Zoom-calls, so it needs ✋ and a alert Chair to keep the dialogue moving productively. This ✋ is the first emoticon embedded in The Blob: a landmark of sorts. 

I you want the floor and you're not on Zoom you can: lean forward; half raise your hand; fully raise your eyebrows; half open you mouth . . . and go ukk ukk. If you are young, female or black you'll have to be waaay more assertive than if you are a Patriarch, the class bully. Talk shows on RTE really need some help here: guests, not just politicians, will talk across each other and many of the chairs / hosts, despite their €1xx,000 salaries are hopeless are achieving an orderly discourse. Radio especially hard on this listener. If you're dealing with youngsters who are learning the rules of cede and share or in polyglot situations where cultural cues may differ, then having a talking stick [R] will help restore discipline.

I'm getting most of this from another wonderful Lingthusiasm episode in Conversation, They have a particularly interesting dialogue about two types of conversationalists. You might pause to reflect if you are innately more of a High Consideration person or one who is High Involvement. Those are much less judgemental, and so more useful, terms than strong silent or gabbling interrupters. Both are assets in a dialogue to keep things going but you want to be careful to bring your natural predilection back from either extreme. High Consideration people, for example, could reset their dial on what seems rude in the interruption stakes. High Involvement people, who are intrinsically less happy with silence, may welcome a bit of interruption. It's really revealing to play back video of a meeting in which you were a participant. This is good reason to meet people over coffee: taking a sip of java facilitates change-over.

In public speaking, rather than dialogue, you have a different set of comms probs. The speaker is usually given the floor until they are finished. Even if they say at the beginning "please interrupt at any stage", people rarely do that. And it will be the alpha males in the room who do so. Unless they're a long way down the spectrum, speakers do nevertheless need cues and clues from the audience or they'll lose heart and so lose their train of thought and the event will drag out more than anyone needs. Considerate audiencers, especially if senior, can lubricate the process and help the speaker by nodding sagely, keeping gaze on the dais.

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