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Communication in the Real World: Blog


Communication Competence Part 1: Getting Started on your Road to Communication Competence

Note: This is the first post in a series that will focus on communication competence.

As we prepare for a new academic year, many students will take a communication course for the first time. Perhaps you visited this blog because my textbook, Communication in the Real World, is being used in your course. If so, thank you for visiting, and please feel free to contact me with any questions or feedback about the book.

 For many students, their introductory course in communication is the only communication course they ever take. But, that doesn't mean that the need for improving our communication skills and increasing our communication knowledge will be met completely.

Being competent at something basically means you know what you're doing. Communication competence refers to the knowledge of effective and appropriate communication patterns and the ability to use and adapt that knowledge in various contexts.  To better understand this definition, let’s break apart its components.

Gaining Knowledge and Communication Competence

The first part of the definition we will unpack deals with knowledge. The cognitive elements of competence include knowing how to do something and understanding why things are done the way they are.[i]

People can develop cognitive competence by observing and evaluating the actions of others.

Cognitive competence can also be developed through instruction.

If you are currently taking a communication class, I encourage you to try to observe the communication concepts you are learning in the communication practices of others and yourself. This will help bring the concepts to life and also help you evaluate how communication in the real world matches up with communication concepts. As you build a repertoire of communication knowledge based on your experiential and classroom knowledge, you will also be developing behavioral competence.

Using Your Knowledge to Communicate Competently

The second part of the definition of communication competence that we will unpack is the ability to use.

Individual factors affect our ability to do anything. Not everyone has the same athletic, musical, or intellectual ability. At the individual level, a person’s physiological and psychological characteristics affect competence.

In terms of physiology, age, maturity, and ability to communicate affect competence.

In terms of psychology, a person’s mood, stress level, personality, and level of communication apprehension (level of anxiety regarding communication) affect competence.[ii]

All these factors will either help or hinder you when you try to apply the knowledge you have learned to actual communication behaviors. For example, you might know strategies for being an effective speaker, but public speaking anxiety that kicks in when you get in front of the audience may prevent you from fully putting that knowledge into practice.

Adaptability and Communication Competence

The third part of the definition we will unpack is ability to adapt to various contexts.

What is competent or not varies based on social and cultural context, which makes it impossible to only have one standard for what counts as communication competence.[iii]

Social variables such as status and power affect competence. In a social situation where one person—say, a supervisor—has more power than another—for example, his or her employee—then the supervisor is typically the one who sets the standard for competence.

Cultural variables such as race and nationality also affect competence. A Taiwanese woman who speaks English as her second language may be praised for her competence in the English language in her home country but be viewed as less competent in the United States because of her accent.

In summary, although we have a clear definition of communication competence, there are not definitions for how to be competent in any given situation, since competence varies at the individual, social, and cultural level.

Developing communication competence takes time and effort, but it can also bring many rewards. In the next entry, we will learn more about the types of communication competence that college students should gain and the potential benefits of them.

[i] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 9.

[ii] Ralph E. Cooley and Deborah A Roach, “A Conceptual Framework,” in Competence in Communication: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. Robert N. Bostrom (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1984), 24.

[iii] Ralph E. Cooley and Deborah A Roach, “A Conceptual Framework,” in Competence in Communication: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. Robert N. Bostrom (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1984), 26.


Um, Uh, Like, Ah, You Know?: Why We Use Verbal Fillers And How To Avoid Them

Verbal Fillers

Verbal fillers are sounds that fill gaps in our speech as we think about what to say next. They are considered a part of nonverbal communication because they are not like typical words that stand in for a specific meaning or meanings.

Verbal fillers such as “um,” “uh,” “like,” and “ah” are common in regular conversation and are not typically disruptive. Verbal fillers can even serve a purpose: for example, helping a person “keep the floor” during a conversation if they need to pause for a moment to think before continuing on with verbal communication.

Verbal fillers in more formal settings, like a public speech, can hurt a speaker’s credibility.

 A recent article in the International Business Times titled "Like, Uh, You Know: Why Do Americans Say 'You Know' And Use Other Verbal Fillers So Often?" explores the issue of verbal fillers.

The author notes an example of Harvey Weinstein, the famous Hollywood movie producer, doing an interview on CNN and using the filler "you know" 84 times during the broadcast! Here's one sentence from the interview that illustrates his noticeable overuse of verbal fillers:

"And then I met, you know, the Giffords, I mean whatever, and you know, they're amazing, Gabby, you know, and Mark, you know, and just incredible to me what they've done and what Mayor Bloomberg has done."

You can check out the full transcript for yourself here.

We can't just pick on Mr. Weinstein, we've all used more than our share of verbal fillers. As a scholar and teacher of speech, it's important to note that we can lessen our use of fillers, which may make our messages clearer and more credible.

Verbal fillers are often used subconsciously and can negatively affect your credibility and reduce the clarity of your message when speaking in more formal situations. In fact, verbal fluency is one of the strongest predictors of persuasiveness.[i]

Becoming a higher self-monitor can help you notice your use of verbal fillers and begin to eliminate them. Beginner speakers can often reduce their use of verbal fillers noticeably over just a short period of time.

Fluency Hiccups

Verbal fillers are part of a larger category of problematic speech elements that I call fluency hiccups in my book Communication in the Real World. As is the case with most communication phenomena, knowing more about them can help us become better communicators.

Fluency refers to the flow of your speaking. To speak with fluency means that your speech flows well and that there are not many interruptions to that flow.

Fluency hiccups are unintended pauses in a speech that usually result from forgetting what you were saying, being distracted, or losing your place in your speaking notes. Fluency hiccups are not the same as intended pauses, which are useful for adding emphasis or transitioning between parts of a speech. While speakers should try to minimize fluency hiccups, even experienced speakers need to take an unintended pause sometimes to get their bearings or to recover from an unexpected distraction. Fluency hiccups become a problem when they happen regularly enough to detract from the speaker’s message.

If you do lose your train of thought, having a brief fluency hiccup is better than injecting a verbal filler, because the audience may not even notice the pause or may think it was intentional.

Common Causes of Fluency Hiccups

  • Lack of preparation. Effective practice sessions are the best way to prevent fluency hiccups.
  • Not writing for speaking. If you write your speech the way you’ve been taught to write papers, you will have fluency hiccups. You must translate the written words into something easier for you to present orally. To do this, read your speech aloud and edit as you write to make sure your speech is easy for you to speak.
  • A poorly prepared speaking outline. Whether it is on paper or notecards, sloppy writing, unorganized bullet points, or incomplete/insufficient information on a speaking outline leads to fluency hiccups.
  • Distractions. Audience members and the external environment are unpredictable. Hopefully audience members will be polite and will silence their phones, avoid talking while the speaker is presenting, and avoid moving excessively. There could also be external noise that comes through a door or window. A speaker can also be distracted by internal noise such as thinking about other things.

Hopefully this information can help you become a better communicator!

[i] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice, 5th ed. (London: Routledge, 2011), 81.


Facebook's New Gender Options Help Users Better Communicate Their Identities

Facebook announced last week that it is finally expanding its options for gender identity. Martha Mendoza's story for the Associated Press notes:

"You don't have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore. The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her or them."

These expanded options are a relief, undoubtedly, to the Facebook users who don't fit into or resist the typical gender binary of male/female. While this development in the world of social media will allow people to better communicate and express their gender identities, it connects specifically to the transgender rights movement. to better understand the context behind this story, we must better understand how gender, communication, and identity intersect. The following is excerpted from the chapter on culture and communication in my book Communication in the Real World

"Is It A Boy Or A Girl?"

When we first meet a newborn baby, we often ask whether it’s a boy or a girl. This question illustrates the importance of gender in organizing our social lives and our interpersonal relationships.

A Canadian family became aware of the deep emotions people feel about gender and the great discomfort people feel when they can’t determine gender when they announced to the world that they were not going to tell anyone the gender of their baby, aside from the baby’s siblings. Their desire for their child, named Storm, to be able to experience early life without the boundaries and categories of gender brought criticism from many.[i]

Conversely, many parents consciously or unconsciously “code” their newborns in gendered ways based on our society’s associations of pink clothing and accessories with girls and blue with boys. While it’s obvious to most people that colors aren’t gendered, they take on new meaning when we assign gendered characteristics of masculinity and femininity to them. 

Social Construction of Gender

Just like race, gender is a socially constructed category. While it is true that there are biological differences between who we label male and female, the meaning our society places on those differences is what actually matters in our day-to-day lives. And the biological differences are interpreted differently around the world, which further shows that although we think gender is a natural, normal, stable way of classifying things, it is actually not. There is a long history of appreciation for people who cross gender lines in Native American and South Central Asian cultures, to name just two.

The Difference Between Gender and Sex

You may have noticed I use the word gender instead of sex. That’s because gender is an identity based on internalized cultural notions of masculinity and femininity that is constructed through communication and interaction. There are two important parts of this definition to unpack.

  • We internalize notions of gender based on socializing institutions, which helps us form our gender identity. 
  • We attempt to construct that gendered identity through our interactions with others, which is our gender expression. 

Sex is based on biological characteristics, including external genitalia, internal sex organs, chromosomes, and hormones.[ii] While the biological characteristics between men and women are obviously different, it’s the meaning that we create and attach to those characteristics that makes them significant.

The cultural differences in how that significance is ascribed are proof that “our way of doing things” is arbitrary. For example, cross-cultural research has found that boys and girls in most cultures show both aggressive and nurturing tendencies, but cultures vary in terms of how they encourage these characteristics between genders. In a group in Africa, young boys are responsible for taking care of babies and are encouraged to be nurturing.[iii]

Challenges to Gender Norms

There have been challenges to the construction of gender in recent decades. Since the 1960s, scholars and activists have challenged established notions of what it means to be a man or a woman.

The women’s rights movement in the United States dates back to the 1800s, when the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Although most women’s rights movements have been led by white, middle-class women, there was overlap between those involved in the abolitionist movement to end slavery and the beginnings of the women’s rights movement.

Although some of the leaders of the early women’s rights movement had class and education privilege, they were still taking a risk by organizing and protesting. Black women were even more at risk, and Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave, faced those risks often and gave a much noted extemporaneous speech at a women’s rights gathering in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, which came to be called “A’int I a Woman?” Her speech highlighted the multiple layers of oppression faced by black women. You can watch actress Alfre Woodard deliver an interpretation of the speech here:


Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression do not match the gender they were assigned by birth. Transgender people may or may not seek medical intervention like surgery or hormone treatments to help match their physiology with their gender identity.

The term transgender includes other labels such as transsexualtransvestitecross-dresser, and intersex, among others. Terms like hermaphrodite and she-male are not considered appropriate.

As with other groups, it is best to allow someone to self-identify first and then honor their preferred label. If you are unsure of which pronouns to use when addressing someone, you can use gender-neutral language or you can use the pronoun that matches with how they are presenting. If someone has long hair, make-up, and a dress on, but you think their biological sex is male due to other cues, it would be polite to address them with female pronouns, since that is the gender identity they are expressing.

Facebook's move to allow users to express their gender identities outside the typical binary is commendable and will hopefully help us all be more competent communicators when it comes to gender. 

[i] Linsey Davis and Susan Donaldson James, “Canadian Mother Raising Her ‘Genderless’ Baby, Storm, Defends Her Family’s Decision,” ABC News, May 30, 2011, accessed October 12, 2011,

[ii] Julia T. Wood, Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture, 5th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2005), 19.

[iii] Julia T. Wood, Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture, 5th ed. (Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2005), 51.


Media Multitasking - Are We Addicted To Technology? Do We Have Shorter Attention Spans?

Of course, the questions I pose - "Are we addicted to technology?" and "Do We Have Shorter Attention Spans?" - are loaded. They aren't "yes" or "no" questions. True, research shows that we multitask with media more often than ever before, but the effects of that multitasking on our attention and productivity aren't cut and dry. Anecdotally, I know most of us (at least those of us over 30) would probably have negative things to say about media multitasking, like: " My students can't sit through a class without checking their phones." of "My daughter texts, tweets, and listens to Spotify while she's doing her homework."

There is a growing body of research on media multitasking. You can see a blog entry I wrote about it last year here:

For an in-depth discussion of media multitasking, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation's report.

Below is a great infographic from about the interaction between media multitasking and learning:

Online Learning and Multitasking


To Lecture or Not to Lecture? It Depends.....

Lecturing as a method of content delivery has long been established in higher education. As models of instruction have become more team- and activity-oriented in K-12 classrooms, students coming into college now may be discomfited by the wall of words they hit.

I was prompted to write this blog entry after hearing a fellow basic course director make the following claim: "Lecturing is the equivalent of academic pole-dancing." So, does this mean that college professors and instructors who lecture use it to be the "center of attention" and/or as a shield meant to deflect students' questions or challenges while simultaneously hiding the lecturers own insecurity? Well, probably not, but it was still fun to see how far we could take that analogy.

Much research has been done comparing lecturing with other teaching methods.[i] So, when should we lecture? When should we not lecture? How can we improve lectures?

Cons of Lecturing

  1. Lecturing does not help students retain information at the end of a course as well as other methods (like discussion)
  2. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in helping students transfer knowledge to new situations
  3. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in developing problem solving kills
  4. Lecturing is inferior to other teaching methods in motivating students for further learning

Pros of Lecturing

  1. Lecturing can be used to present up-to-date information that may not be included in textbooks
  2. Lecturing can summarize material scattered over a variety of sources
  3. Lecturing can help students read more effectively by orienting students to new material and providing a conceptual framework
  4. Lecturing can focus student attention on key content

Tips for Effective Lectures

  1. Put content that you are excited about in lectures.
  2. Move around to engage the audience; don’t get stuck behind a lectern or computer.
  3. Actually write out examples; don’t expect them to “come to you” as you lecture.
  4. Include notes to yourself to stop and ask for questions or pose a direct question to the audience.
  5. Start the lecture by connecting to something the audience has already learned, and then say what this lecture will add to their knowledge and how it fits into what will be learned later in the class.
  6. Do not lecture for more than twenty minutes without breaking it up with something more interactive.

[i] Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, 13th ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2011): 55–71.


A PR Director's PR Disaster: A Lesson For Competent and Professional Social Media Usage

A PR Director's PR Disaster: A Lesson For Competent and Professional Social Media Usage

A PR director with InterActiveCorp, Justine Sacco, tweeted the following before taking off to South Africa: 

Obviously, such a comment draws on stereotypes of Africa and AIDS, and adding the "I'm white" part at the end brings up outdated tropes that position white, especially white heterosexuals, as immune to AIDS. Shouldn't a public relations professional know that what she says online can go viral in seconds? As a professional at a company that represents clients like OKCupid and UrbanSpoon know how to use competently her own social media? As a communication professional myself, I think the obvious answer to these questions is: yes!

Reliable Sources did a great segment on this called, "Trial By Social Media," in which they discuss how the internet exploded with reaction to Sacco's tweet, while she was presumably enjoying her long flight to Africa. By the time she landed, reporters had already gathered to question her about the tweet. Subsequently, she issued a public apology and lost her job. 

In my book, Communication in the Real World, I outline some guidlines for competent social media usage in my chapter titled, "New Media and Communication." What follows is an excerpt with advice that might have helped Ms. Sacco and may help us all. 

Competent Communication on Social Media

We all have a growing log of personal information stored on the Internet, and some of it is under our control and some of it isn’t. We also have increasingly diverse social networks that require us to be cognizant of the information we make available and how we present ourselves. While we can’t control all the information about ourselves online or the impressions people form, we can more competently engage with social media so that we are getting the most out of it in both personal and professional contexts.

A quick search on Google for “social media dos and don’ts” will yield around 100,000 results, which shows that there’s no shortage of advice about how to competently use social media.

One key piece of advice, relevant to the case of Justine Sacco is: Think before you post.

Think Before You Post

Software that enable people to take “screen shots” or download videos and tools that archive web pages can be used without our knowledge to create records of what you post. While it is still a good idea to go through your online content and “clean up” materials that may form unfavorable impressions, it is even a better idea to not put that information out there in the first place. Posting something about how you hate school or your job or a specific person may be done in the heat of the moment and forgotten, but a potential employer might find that information and form a negative impression even if it’s months or years old.


The Importance of First and Last Impressions: Communicating for Success

The Importance of First and Last Impressions: Communicating for Success

Think back to the first day of classes. Did you plan ahead for what you were going to wear? Did you get the typical school supplies together? Did you try to find your classrooms ahead of time or look for the syllabus online? Did you look up your professors on an online professor evaluation site?

Based on your answers to these questions, I could form an impression of who you are as a student. But would that perception be accurate? Would it match up with how you see yourself as a student? And perception, of course, is a two-way street. You also formed impressions about your professors based on their appearance, dress, organization, intelligence, and approachability. As a professor who teaches others how to teach, I instruct my student-teachers to really take the first day of class seriously (see post in this blog: "For College Teachers: How to Build Credibility and Create a Positive Class Climate on the First Day"). The impressions that both teacher and student make on the first day help set the tone for the rest of the semester. 

How We Perceive Others Affects Our Communication And Our Actions

Even more generally, the perceptions that we make of others and that others make of us affect how we communicate and act. I explore the role of perception in communication in my book Communication in the Real World. One aspect of perception that many people are concerned about is making a good impression.

Are you a good judge of character? How quickly can you “size someone up?” Interestingly, research shows that many people are surprisingly accurate at predicting how an interaction with someone will unfold based on initial impressions. Fascinating research has also been done on the ability of people to make a judgment about a person’s competence after as little as 100 milliseconds of exposure to politicians’ faces. Even more surprising is that people’s judgments of competence, after exposure to two candidates for senate elections, accurately predicted election outcomes.[i] In short, after only minimal exposure to a candidate’s facial expressions, people made judgments about the person’s competence, and those judged more competent were people who actually won elections!

The Power of First Impressions

The old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a good impression,” points to the fact that first impressions matter.

The brain is a predictive organ in that it wants to know, based on previous experiences and patterns, what to expect next, and first impressions function to fill this need, allowing us to determine how we will proceed with an interaction after only a quick assessment of the person with whom we are interacting.[ii]

Research shows that people are surprisingly good at making accurate first impressions about how an interaction will unfold and at identifying personality characteristics of people they do not know. Studies show that people are generally able to predict how another person will behave toward them based on an initial interaction. People’s accuracy and ability to predict interaction based on first impressions vary, but people with high accuracy are typically socially skilled and popular, and have less loneliness, anxiety, and depression, more satisfying relationships, and more senior positions and higher salaries.[iii]

So not only do first impressions matter, but having the ability to form accurate first impressions seems to correlate to many other positive characteristics.

First impressions are enduring because of the primacy effect, which leads us to place more value on the first information we receive about a person. So if we interpret the first information we receive from or about a person as positive, then a positive first impression will form and influence how we respond to that person as the interaction continues.

Likewise, negative interpretations of information can lead to form negative first impressions. For example, if you sit down at a restaurant and servers walk by for several minutes and no one greets you, then you will likely interpret that negatively and not have a good impression of your server when he finally shows up. This may lead you to be short with the server, which may lead him to not be as attentive as he normally would. At this point, a series of negative interactions has set into motion a cycle that will be very difficult to reverse and make positive.

The Power of Last Impressions

The recency effect leads us to put more weight on the most recent impression we have of a person’s communication over earlier impressions. Even a positive first impression can be tarnished by a negative final impression.

Imagine that a professor has maintained a relatively high level of credibility with you over the course of the semester. She made a good first impression by being organized, approachable, and interesting during the first days of class. The rest of the semester went fairly well with no major conflicts. However, during the last week of the term, she didn’t have final papers graded and ready to turn back by the time she said she would, which left you with some uncertainty about how well you needed to do on the final exam to earn an A in the class. When you did get your paper back, on the last day of class, you saw that your grade was much lower than you expected.

If this happened to you, what would you write on the instructor evaluation? Because of the recency effect, many students would likely give a disproportionate amount of value to the professor’s actions in the final week of the semester, negatively skewing the evaluation, which is supposed to be reflective of the entire semester. Even though the professor only returned one assignment late, that fact is very recent in students’ minds and can overshadow the positive impression that formed many weeks earlier. 

The Take Home Message

As we perceive others, we make impressions about their personality, likeability, attractiveness, and other characteristics. Although much of our impressions are personal, what forms them is sometimes based more on circumstances than personal characteristics. All the information we take in isn’t treated equally, so be conscious of how you are perceived and don't waste a chance to make a good impression. 

[i] Charles C. Ballew II and Alexander Todorov, “Predicting Political Elections from Rapid and Unreflective Face Judgments,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 46 (2007): 17948.

[ii] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 280.

[iii] Owen Hargie, Skilled Interpersonal Interaction: Research, Theory, and Practice (London: Routledge, 2011), 281.



Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

We've all heard the warning, "Never date a coworker!" But, that doesn't stop people from doing so, as evidenced by the number of organizations and companies creating policies for workplace romances. Of course popular culture is full of examples of workplace romances, some more successful than others. Perhaps the most famous, recent workplace romance invovles Jim and Pam from The Office

Workplace Romances

Workplace romances involve two people who are emotionally and physically attracted to one another.[i] We don’t have to look far to find evidence that this relationship type is the most controversial of all the workplace relationships. For example, the president of the American Red Cross was fired in 2007 for having a personal relationship with a subordinate. That same year, the president of the World Bank resigned after controversy over a relationship with an employee.[ii] So what makes these relationships so problematic?

Are They Good For Business or Bad For Business?

Some research supports the claim that workplace romances are bad for business, while other research claims workplace romances enhance employee satisfaction and productivity.

Despite this controversy, workplace romances are not rare or isolated, as research shows 75 to 85 percent of people are affected by a romantic relationship at work as a participant or observer.[iii]

People who are opposed to workplace romances cite several common reasons. More so than friendships, workplace romances bring into the office emotions that have the potential to become intense. This doesn’t mesh well with a general belief that the workplace should not be an emotional space. Additionally, romance brings sexuality into workplaces that are supposed to be asexual, which also creates a gray area in which the line between sexual attraction and sexual harassment is blurred.[iv]

People who support workplace relationships argue that companies shouldn’t have a say in the personal lives of their employees and cite research showing that workplace romances increase productivity. Obviously, this is not a debate that we can settle here. Instead, let’s examine some of the communicative elements that affect this relationship type.

Motives Behind Workplace Romances 

Individuals may engage in workplace romances for many reasons, three of which are job motives, ego motives, and love motives.[v]

Job motives include gaining rewards such as power, money, or job security.

Ego motives include the “thrill of the chase” and the self-esteem boost one may get.

Love motives include the desire for genuine affection and companionship.

Despite the motives, workplace romances impact coworkers, the individuals in the relationship, and workplace policies. Romances at work may fuel gossip, especially if the couple is trying to conceal their relationship. This could lead to hurt feelings, loss of trust, or even jealousy. If coworkers perceive the relationship is due to job motives, they may resent the appearance of favoritism and feel unfairly treated. The individuals in the relationship may experience positive effects such as increased satisfaction if they get to spend time together at work and may even be more productive.

Romances between subordinates and supervisors are more likely to slow productivity. If a relationship begins to deteriorate, the individuals may experience more stress than other couples would, since they may be required to continue to work together daily.

How Should Workplace Romances Be Handled? 

Over the past couple decades, there has been a national discussion about whether or not organizations should have policies related to workplace relationships, and there are many different opinions. Company policies range from complete prohibition of romantic relationships, to policies that only specify supervisor-subordinate relationships as off-limits, to policies that don’t prohibit but discourage love affairs in the workplace.[vi]

One trend that seeks to find middle ground is the “love contract” or “dating waiver.”[vii] This requires individuals who are romantically involved to disclose their relationship to the company and sign a document saying that it is consensual and they will not engage in favoritism.

Some businesses are taking another route and encouraging workplace romances. Southwest Airlines, for example, allows employees of any status to date each other and even allows their employees to ask passengers out on a date. Other companies like AT&T and Ben and Jerry’s have similar open policies.[viii]

So, time for you to weigh in! What do you think about workplace romances? How do they affect the communication that takes place in a workplace?

[i] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 126.

[ii] C. Boyd, “The Debate Over the Prohibition of Romance in the Workplace,” Journal of Business Ethics 97 (2010): 325.

[iii] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 132.

[iv] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 130.

[v] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 134.

[vi] Patricia M. Sias, Organizing Relationships: Traditional and Emerging Perspectives on Workplace Relationships (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2009), 140.

[vii] C. Boyd, “The Debate Over the Prohibition of Romance in the Workplace,” Journal of Business Ethics 97 (2010): 329.

[viii] C. Boyd, “The Debate Over the Prohibition of Romance in the Workplace,” Journal of Business Ethics 97 (2010): 334.


Choosing a Persuasive Speech Topic

As with any speech, topic selection is important and is influenced by many factors. Good persuasive speech topics are current, controversial, and have important implications for society.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should Be Current:

If your topic is currently being discussed on television, in newspapers, in the lounges in your dorm, or around your family’s dinner table, then it’s a current topic. A persuasive speech aimed at getting audience members to wear seatbelts in cars wouldn’t have much current relevance, given that statistics consistently show that most people wear seatbelts. Giving the same speech would have been much more timely in the 1970s when there was a huge movement to increase seatbelt use.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should be Controversial: 

Many topics that are current are also controversial, which is what gets them attention by the media and citizens. Current and controversial topics will be more engaging for your audience. A persuasive speech to encourage audience members to donate blood or recycle wouldn’t be very controversial, since the benefits of both practices are widely agreed on. However, arguing that the restrictions on blood donation by men who have had sexual relations with men be lifted would be controversial.

I must caution here that controversial is not the same as inflammatory. An inflammatory topic is one that evokes strong reactions from an audience for the sake of provoking a reaction. Being provocative for no good reason or choosing a topic that is extremist will damage your credibility and prevent you from achieving your speech goals.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should be Important to You and to Society:

You should also choose a topic that is important to you and to society as a whole. Our voices are powerful, as it is through communication that we participate and make change in society. Therefore we should take seriously opportunities to use our voices to speak publicly. Choosing a speech topic that has implications for society is probably a better application of your public speaking skills than choosing to persuade the audience that Lebron James is the best basketball player in the world or that Superman is a better hero than Spiderman. Although those topics may be very important to you, they don’t carry the same social weight as many other topics you could choose to discuss. Remember that speakers have ethical obligations to the audience and should take the opportunity to speak seriously.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should Connect to Your Interests and Passions:

You will also want to choose a topic that connects to your own interests and passions. If you are an education major, it might make more sense to do a persuasive speech about funding for public education than the death penalty. If there are hot-button issues for you that make you get fired up and veins bulge out in your neck, then it may be a good idea to avoid those when speaking in an academic or professional context.

Choosing such topics may interfere with your ability to deliver a speech in a competent and ethical manner. You want to care about your topic, but you also want to be able to approach it in a way that’s going to make people want to listen to you. Most people tune out speakers they perceive to be too ideologically entrenched and write them off as extremists or zealots.

Persuasive Speech Topics Should be Argumentative:

You also want to ensure that your topic is actually persuasive. Draft your thesis statement as an “I believe” statement so your stance on an issue is clear. Also, think of your main points as reasons to support your thesis. Students end up with speeches that aren’t very persuasive in nature if they don’t think of their main points as reasons. Identifying arguments that counter your thesis is also a good exercise to help ensure your topic is persuasive. If you can clearly and easily identify a competing thesis statement and supporting reasons, then your topic and approach is argumentative.

Review of Tips for Choosing a Persuasive Speech Topic

1.    Choose a topic that is current.

  • Not current. People should use seatbelts.
  • Current. People should not text while driving.

2.    Choose a topic that is controversial.

  • Not controversial. People should recycle.
  • Controversial. Recycling should be mandatory by law.

3.    Choose a topic that meaningfully impacts society.

  • Not as impactful. Superman is the best superhero.
  • Impactful. Colleges and universities should adopt zero-tolerance bullying policies.

4.    Write a thesis statement that is clearly argumentative and states your stance.

  • Unclear thesis. Homeschooling is common in the United States.
  • Clear, argumentative thesis with stance. Homeschooling does not provide the same benefits of traditional education and should be strictly monitored and limited.

Did Miley Cyrus Help Twerk Make It Into The Oxford Online Dictionary?

Did Miley Cyrus Help Twerk Make It Into The Oxford Online Dictionary? Well the answer is likely no, since these decisions are made far in advance of an announcement. Considering Oxford's announcement came just a few days after Miley Cyrus's now infamous appearance on the MTV Video Music Awards, it's more of a coincidence.

This does, however, illustrate an important principle of verbal communication - that language is dynamic.   

Language is Dynamic

Language is essentially limitless. We may create a one-of-a-kind sentence combining words in new ways and never know it. Aside from the endless structural possibilities, words change meaning, and new words are created daily. Buzzworthy, me time, and selfie are just some of the other words that were included, along with twerking, in the Oxford Dictionary...well at least the online version.


Neologisms are newly coined or used words. Newly coined words are those that were just brought into linguistic existence. Newly used words make their way into languages in several ways, including borrowing and changing structure. Borrowing is the primary means through which languages expand. English is a good case in point, as most of its vocabulary is borrowed and doesn’t reflect the language’s Germanic origins. English has been called the “vacuum cleaner of languages,”[i] as we have borrowed many words, like chic from French, karaoke from Japanese, and caravan from Arabic.

Structural changes also lead to new words. Compound words are neologisms that are created by joining two already known words. Keyboard, newspaper, and giftcard are all compound words that were formed when new things were created or conceived. We also create new words by adding something, subtracting something, or blending them together.

For example, we can add affixes, meaning a prefix or a suffix, to a word. Affixing usually alters the original meaning but doesn’t completely change it. Ex-husband and kitchenette are relatively recent examples of such changes.[ii] New words are also formed when clipping a word like examination, which creates a new word, exam, that retains the same meaning. And last, we can form new words by blending old ones together. Words like breakfast and lunch blend letters and meaning to form a new word—brunch. Or oblivious and idiot can combine to create "obliviot."

Existing words also change in their use and meaning. The digital age has given rise to some interesting changes in word usage. Before Facebook, the word friend had many meanings, but it was mostly used as a noun referring to a companion. The sentence, "I'll friend you," wouldn’t have made sense to many people just a few years ago because "friend" wasn’t used as a verb.


Slang is a great example of the dynamic nature of language. Slang refers to new or adapted words that are specific to a group, context, and/or time period; regarded as less formal; and representative of people’s creative play with language. Twerk, as a word and action, didn't originate with Miley Cyrus. As with many slang words, it can be difficult to trace the exact etymology, but it has been around for at least 20 years and was initially used in hip-hop dance circles by DJs in the south. The word may be a combination of twist and jerk, but we can't be sure of that.

Research has shown that only about 10 percent of the slang terms that emerge over a fifteen-year period survive. Other words take their place though, as new slang words are created using inversion, reduction, or old-fashioned creativity.[iv]

Inversion is a form of word play that produces slang words like sick, wicked, and bad that refer to the opposite of their typical meaning.

Reduction creates slang words such as pic, sec, and later from picture, second, and see you later.

New slang words often represent what is edgy, current, or simply relevant to the daily lives of a group of people. Many creative examples of slang refer to illegal or socially taboo topics like sex, drinking, and drugs. It makes sense that developing an alternative way to identify drugs or talk about taboo topics could make life easier for the people who partake in such activities. Slang allows people who are in “in the know” to understand what is being said and presents a linguistic barrier for unwanted outsiders. Take a moment to think about the amount of slang that refers to being intoxicated on drugs or alcohol or engaging in sexual activity.

New words can create a lot of buzz and become a part of common usage very quickly (i.e., twerk). The same can happen with new slang terms. Most slang words also disappear quickly, and their alternative meaning fades into obscurity. For example, you don’t hear anyone using the word macaroni to refer to something cool or fashionable. But that’s exactly what the common slang meaning of the word was at the time the song “Yankee Doodle” was written. Yankee Doodle isn’t saying the feather he sticks in his cap is a small, curved pasta shell; he is saying it’s cool or stylish. Who knows, maybe twerk will be just as meaningless as macaroni in fifteen years. 

[i] David Crystal, How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2005), 225.

[ii] David Crystal, How Language Works: How Babies Babble, Words Change Meaning, and Languages Live or Die (Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2005), 226.

[iii] “All of the Words of the Year 1990 to Present,” American Dialect Society, accessed June 7, 2012,

[iv] Keith Allan and Kate Burridge, Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 69–71.