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2016
Kate George

The Great Debate(s)

Posted by Kate George Employee Sep 29, 2016

Source: Joe Raedle/Pool via AP

 

With the presidential debate season officially underway after Monday evening’s event at Hofstra University, public speaking and debate are in the forefront of more and more mainstream conversations. Embracing the spirit of convergence, I sat and watched the debate unfold across three screens: the TV on which I watched the debate, my phone where my Facebook News Feed was overrun with opinions, articles, and memes of the event (Hillary’s sassy shoulder shake later inspired this amazing gif), and my computer where I followed the NPR fact checker.

 

Throughout the evening, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the ubiquity, not only of discussions of the event in general, but specifically of the conversation of the art of debate and of public speaking that surrounded it. What makes an individual “the winner” of the debate? Who decides the rules of public speaking in such a forum, and what happens when one of the participants throws all the rules out the window? What level of preparation can and should be expected of those given the chance to participate in such an important tradition?

 

In reading and participating in several such conversations, I couldn’t help but think what an amazing opportunity this series of debates will be for students studying public speaking this semester. They will see that public speaking is vitally important, not just as an assignment in a class they need to pass to graduate, but as a life skill that can help them succeed in school and beyond. They can analyze, in real time, modern public discourse, and have conversations with their friends about these events. They can predict, and later reflect upon, what effect these debates will have on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. The possibilities are endless.

 

How are you incorporating the presidential debates in to your public speaking classes this semester?

A very special congratulations to Steven McCornack for winning Best Article Award from the International Association of Language and Social Psychology! Steve is the author of Reflect & Relate, 4e, Interpersonal Communication & You, 1e and the newly published Choices & Connections: An Introduction to Communication, 2e. 

 

For more details on Steve's paper, click here

Recent findings from the Pew Research Center may come as no surprise: 92% of American teens report going online daily, and 24% say they are online "almost constantly." 71% of teens are on Facebook, followed by Instagram and Snapchat with 52% and 41%, respectively. 

 

Social media may seem pervasive among American youth, but a small population of teens have opted out. In an article from The Wall Street Journal, Future Tense Fellow Christine Rosen discusses this group of teens who are rejecting all social media and their reasoning for doing so. Of the teenagers whom Rosen spoke to, they didn't see the need for social media in their lives because they thought it was "just a joke" and not "valuable communication." One teen believed "there's nothing really new or creative on it" and that it "will be pretty much be gone" in ten years.

 

By removing social media from their lives, this group of teens is not susceptible to what Rosen called the "immediate and chronic danger" of social media: teens who frequently use social media are more likely to compare themselves to their peers and evaluate their self-worth each time they receive (or don't receive) "likes" or responses to what they've posted.

 

Do you have students who have rejected social media? Do they feel it's "just a joke"? Do you think there's a way for these teenagers to use social media in a way that feels more authentic to how they want to communicate with their peers? 

            Last week I started reading Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg on my morning commute in an attempt to be more productive. In his book, Duhigg systematically dissects the habits of highly successful individuals and their habits, but what really caught my attention was his chapter on successful teams. In the chapter, Duhigg examines a study on team building conducted by a group of psychologists from MIT and Carnegie Mellon that took place back in 2008.  Researchers had recruited around 700 individuals and divided them into 152 teams to complete tasks that required varying levels of collaboration. The teams took part in activities that ranged from maximizing time grocery shopping together to arriving at conclusions for fabricated disciplinary cases. Each task varied in difficulty and required teams to spend a significant amount of time together. From your own experience, what are some elements you think has an impact on a team’s success? What do you think the researchers discovered?

 

Did the teams with the smartest individuals succeed more often?

Were the winning teams more decisive or aggressive compared to their counterparts?

Would they establish tasks and distribute work evenly?

Did the interactions between team members appear more casual or strict?

Did they consist of individuals that had similar socioeconomic backgrounds?

 

            The answer is, none of the above. The most successful teams didn’t have any traits that the researchers would’ve deemed obvious, like IQ levels or social dynamics (some great teams were loud and chaotic; others were calm and soft spoken). After taking a closer look at each team’s interactions the researchers came to an unexpected conclusion. Individual intelligence did not correlate to the performance of the team. Neither did logistics like work distribution or approaches to the tasks.

   The most successful teams managed to create environments that raised the collective intelligence of everyone in the group. Adversely, the least successful teams created norms that decreased the collective intelligence and productivity of the group. When it came down to it, there were two traits that researchers linked to an increase in collective intelligence.

 

 

 

  1.  Each member spoke about the same amount. On reviewing videos of team interactions, researchers found that all of the members in successful teams spoke in roughly the same proportion. The specifics of how they were talking didn’t matter. Some groups were yelling over each other throughout the task, while others were patient and took turns. The researchers called this trait “equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.”
  2. The greatest teams tested as having a high social sensitivity. Before forming teams, researchers tested the social sensitivity of each candidate with an empathy test. This involved showing candidates photos of people’s eyes and asking them to identify what they were feeling. Men on average guess correctly 52% of the time. Women on average guess correctly 61% of the time. Team members with high social sensitivity seemed to know when someone felt left out or had something to say. They spent more time asking each other questions. The most successful teams also contained a higher proportion of women.

 

 

If you’d like to test your social sensitivity, click here to take a quick quiz!