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Chapter 2.2 - Listening and Criticism
Transcript of Chapter 2.2 - Listening and Criticism
Chapter 2 - Listening and Criticism
Guidelines for Criticism
Prof. Elsa García
Stress the Positive
Egos are fragile and public speaking is extremely personal.
Speakers understand what Noel Coward meant when he said, “I love criticism just as long as it’s unqualified praise.” Part of your function as a critic is to strengthen the already positive aspects of someone’s public speaking performance. Positive criticism is particularly important in itself, but it’s almost essential as a preface to negative comments. There are always positive characteristics about any speech, and it’s more productive to concentrate on these first. Thus, instead of saying (as in the self-test) “The speech didn’t do anything for me,” tell the speaker what you liked first, then bring up a weak point and suggest how it might be improved.
When criticizing a person’s second or third speech, it’s especially helpful if
you can point out specific improvements (“You really held my attention in this
speech,” “I felt you were much more in control of the topic today than in your
Remember, too, the irreversibility of communication. Once you say something, you can’t take it back. Remember this when offering criticism, especially criticism
that may be too negative. If in doubt, err on the side of gentleness.
Criticism is most effective when it’s specific. Statements such as “I thought your delivery was bad,” “I thought your examples were good,” or, as in the self-test, “I loved the speech . . . Really great” and “The speech was weak” are poorly expressed criticisms. These statements don’t specify what the speaker might do to improve delivery or to capitalize on the examples used.
In commenting on delivery, refer to such specifics as eye contact, vocal volume, or whatever else is of consequence. In commenting on the examples, tell the speaker why they were good. Were they realistic? Were they especially interesting? Were they presented dramatically?
In giving negative criticism, specify and justify—to the extent that you can— positive alternatives. Here’s an example.
I thought the way in which you introduced your statistics was vague. I wasn’t sure where the statistics came from or how recent or reliable they were. It might
have been better to say something like “The U.S. Census figures for 2000 show
that . . .” In this way we would know that the statistics were as recent as possible
and the most reliable available.
In criticizing a speech, transcend your own biases as best you
can, unlike our earlier example, “Your position was unfair ...; we earned those scholarships.” See the speech as objectively as possible.
Assume, for example, that you’re strongly for a woman’s right to an abortion and you encounter a speech diametrically opposed to your position. In this situation, you’d need to take special care not to dismiss the speech because of your own biases.
Examine the speech from the point of view of a detached critic, and evaluate, for example, the validity of the arguments and their suitability to the audience, the language, and the supporting materials.
Conversely, take special care not to evaluate a speech positively because it presents a position with which you agree, as in “I liked the speech; we need more police on campus.”
Your primary goal should be to provide the speaker with insight that will prove useful in future public speaking transactions. For example, to say “The introduction didn't gain my attention” doesn't tell the speaker how he or she might have gained your attention. Instead, you might say “The example about the computer crash would have more effectively gained my attention in the introduction.”
Another way you can be constructive is to limit your criticism. Cataloging a speaker’s weak points, as in “I found four things wrong with your speech,” will overwhelm, not help, the speaker. If you’re the sole critic, your criticism naturally will need to be more extensive. If you’re one of many critics, limit your criticism to one or perhaps two points. In all cases, your guide should be the value your comments will have for the speaker.
Focus on Behavior
Focus criticism on what the speaker said and did during the actual speech. Try to avoid the very natural tendency to read the mind of the speaker, to assume that you know why the speaker did one thing rather than another. Compare the critical comments presented in Table 2.1. Note that those in the first column, “Criticism as Attack,” try to identify the reasons the speaker did as he or she did; they try to read the speaker’s mind.
At the same time, they blame the
speaker for what happened. Those in the second column, “Criticism as Support,” focus on the specific behavior. Note, too, that those in the first column are likely to encourage defensiveness; you can almost hear the speaker saying, “I was so interested in the topic.” Those in the second column are less likely to create defensiveness and are more likely to be appreciated as honest reflections of how the critic perceived the speech.
Own Your Criticism
In giving criticism, own your comments; take responsibility for them. The best way to express this ownership is to use “I-messages” rather than “you-messages.” Instead of saying, “You needed better research,” say, “I would have been more persuaded if you used more recent research.”
Recognize Your Ethical Obligations
Just as the speaker and listener have ethical obligations, so does the critic. Here are a few guidelines. First, the ethical critic separates personal feelings about the speaker from the evaluation of the speech. A liking for the speaker shouldn't lead you to give positive evaluations of the speech, nor should disliking the speaker lead you to give negative evaluations of the speech.
Second, the ethical critic separates personal feelings about the issues from an evaluation of the validity of the arguments. The ethical critic recognizes the validity of an argument even if it contradicts a deeply held belief and at the same time recognizes the fallaciousness of an argument even if it supports a deeply held belief.
Third, the ethical critic is culturally sensitive, aware of his or her own ethnocentrism, and doesn't negatively evaluate customs and forms of speech simply because they deviate from her or his own. Similarly, the ethical critic does not positively evaluate a speech just because it supports her or his own cultural beliefs and values. The ethical critic does not discriminate against or favor speakers simply because they’re of a particular sex, race, nationality, religion, age group, or affectional orientation.
• Accept the Critic’s Viewpoint.
• Listen with an Open Mind.
• Separate Speech Criticism from Personal Criticism.
• Seek Clarification.
• Evaluate the Criticism.
Culture and Listening
Listening is difficult, in part, because of the inevitable differences in the communication
systems between speaker and listener.
Because each person has had a unique set of experiences, each person’s communication and meaning system is going to be different from the next person’s system. When speaker and listener come from different cultures, the differences and their effects are naturally much greater. Here are just a few areas where misunderstandings can occur.
Language and Speech
Even when speaker and listener speak the same language, they speak it with different meanings and different accents. No two speakers speak exactly the same language. Every speaker speaks an idiolect—a unique variation of the language. Speakers of the same language will sometimes have different meanings for the same terms because they have had different experiences Speakers and listeners who have different native languages and who may have learned English as a second language will have even greater differences in meaning.
Translations are never precise and never fully capture the meaning in the other language. If your meaning for house was learned in a culture in which everyone lived in their own house with lots of land around it, then communicating your meaning for house with someone whose meaning was learned in a neighborhood of high-rise tenements is going to be difficult. Although you’ll each hear the same word, the meanings you’ll each develop will be drastically different. In adjusting your listening—especially when in an intercultural setting—understand that the speaker’s meanings may be very different from yours even though you each know and speak the same language.
Another part of speech is that of accents. In many classrooms throughout the country, there will be a wide range of accents (both regional and foreign). Those whose native language is a tonal one such as Chinese (where differences in pitch signal important meaning differences) may speak English with variations in pitch
that may seem unnatural to others. Those whose native language is Japanese may have trouble distinguishing “l” from “r” since Japanese does not make this distinction. Regional accent differences may make it difficult for people from Mississippi and Maine, for example, to understand each other; words may have different meanings and pronunciations and this may make communication more difficult than if the speakers were from the same area.
Speakers from different cultures have different display rules, cultural rules that govern which nonverbal behaviors are appropriate and which are inappropriate in a public setting. As you listen to another person, you also “listen” to their nonverbals. If these are drastically different from what you expect on the basis of the verbal message, they may be seen as a kind of noise or interference or they may be seen as contradictory messages.
Also, different cultures may give very different meanings to the same nonverbal gesture. For example, Americans consider direct eye contact an expression of honesty and forthrightness, but the Japanese often view this as a lack of respect. The Japanese will glance at the other person’s face rarely and then only for very short periods (Axtell, 1990a). Among some Latin Americans and Native Americans, direct eye contact between, say, a teacher and a student is considered inappropriate, perhaps aggressive; appropriate student behavior is to avoid eye contact with the teacher.
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to evaluate the values, beliefs, and behaviors of your own culture as being more positive, logical, and natural than those of others.
The nonethnocentric, on the other hand, would see both himself or herself and others as different but equal, with neither being inferior nor superior.
Ethnocentric listening occurs when you listen to members of other cultures and consider them to be lacking in knowledge or expertise because they are from another culture or acknowledge members of your own culture as knowledgeable and expert simply because they are from your own culture.
Similarly, you’re listening ethnocentrically when you listen to ideas about other cultures and view these as inferior simply because they differ from those of your own culture and view ideas of your own culture as superior simply because they are from your own culture.
According to Deborah Tannen (1990) in her best-selling You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation women seek to build rapport and establish a closer relationship and so use listening to achieve these ends. Men, on the other hand, will play up their expertise, emphasize it, and use it to dominate the interaction. Women play down their expertise and are more interested in communicating supportiveness. Tannen argues that the goal of a man in conversation is to be accorded respect and so he seeks to show his knowledge and expertise. A woman, on the other hand, seeks to be liked and so she expresses agreement.
Men and women also show that they’re listening in different ways. Women are more apt to give lots of listening cues such as interjecting yeah, uh-uh, nodding in agreement, and smiling. A man is more likely to listen quietly, without giving a lot of listening cues as feedback. Tannen argues, however, that men do listen less to women than women listen to men. The reason, says Tannen, is that listening places the person in an inferior position whereas speaking places the person in a superior one.
As a result of these differences, men may seem to assume a more argumentative posture while listening, as if getting ready to argue. They may also appear to ask questions that are more argumentative or that are designed to puncture holes in your position as a way to play up their own expertise. Women are more likely to ask supportive questions and perhaps offer criticism that is more positive than men. Women also use more cues in listening in a public speaking context. They let the speaker see that they’re listening. Men, on the other hand, use less listening cues in conversation and probably also in public speaking.