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Language Problems and Miscommunication


Please read the following article "Language matters" below:
1. Stereotypes are attributions that cover up individual difference and ascribing certain characteristics to an entire group of people.
? What are the problems with this? A person might cancel a trip to New York City when she learns that "those New Yorkers will rob you blind." A University of Kansas administration member once advised a young Native American graduate of the KU honors program in political science that "law school is too hard" and "not a good field of study for you." What if the student believes this stereotyping and abandons their pursuit of a law degree? What has the person missed out on by not going to New York?
? Avoid by indexingâ?"think New Yorker1 does not equal New Yorker2
2. Bypassing means having different definitions for one word.
? a. Have you ever said "don't cut my hair too short" only to find that your idea of too short was several inches longer than the stylist's idea? Have you ever said, "we never do anything fun anymore?" How can that affect a relationship?
? Avoid bypassing by being specific and asking for clarification if you are confused.
3. Polarization is treating something as an "either- or" by denying the middle ground.
? "Either I get an A or I'm a failure" (well, a B is a fine grade); "If you love me you'll..." implies that if you don't do as asked, you don't really love the other person.
? The problem is the lack of middle ground, the absence of a grey area. This is particularly troubling if the individual is rigid.
? Remember the middle and the grey.
4. Static evaluation is not allowing people to change with time.
? For example, if you say "John is stupid" because he failed math in fourth grade you are not allowing for personal growth. Maybe John got help with math-- and who said you had to be good at math to be smart anyway? An insurance salesman in a small town thought of his son Matt as "a good boy" and Matt was good until he got into drugs. Matt's dad was shocked when his son was arrested for selling marijuana because he still had that little boy picture in his head.
? How do you like being labeled with old label?
? You can avoid this problem with the idea of "dating." In your head, remember to put the date after the idea. For example, Matt was a good boy in 2000 or John was bad at math in 1998.
5. Biased languageâ?"using sexist or other "ist" language or unnecessarily noting race, gender, etc.
? Saying you want to go out for "Chink food" or calling someone a Feminazi is likely to create conflict.
? Avoid by indexing.
How can I communicate with language more effectively?
1. Paraphrase
2. Avoid biased language
3. Work on the barriers
4. Use specific, concrete and vivid language
5. Use language appropriate to the situation and the participants
6. Avoid markingâ?"say "John is a good student" instead of "John is a good gay student" as though sexual orientation affects intelligence.
7. Remember that language has power.

So, although we use language every day, we often speak without thinking and that can hurt people or cause confusion. Language is complex and we often fall into traps. We can, however, improve our use of language by keeping some simple ideas in mind.

EXERCISE: Troublesome Statements
Identify the language problem demonstrated by the following sentences as polarization, bypassing, stereotyping, static evaluation, or biased language. Then please revise the sentences to eliminate this problem.

- You're either my friend or my enemy.

- Ken says to his wife Lynette, "Glad to get out of that job. All those ragheads and their curry make me sick."

- Guess what? Janine said Chris has a good job. Can you imagine saying that when he works 50 hours a week, is on call the rest of the time, and only earns $31,000 a year?

- Redheads have hot tempers.

- John and I were good friends in college, but now he wants me to vote for him. - How can I vote to put a man in the White House who was so unethical that he copied someone else's paper and handed it in as his own.

- He said he'd meet me after school at the Taco Bell. I am so angry, I'd like to take the car and let him find a ride home. I've been here at the Taco Bell downtown since four o'clock and its almost six. ("He is at the Taco Bell near where he works north of town").

- John is upset. She said not to "fuss" over her birthday, so I just sent her a card. Now she's sulking and barely talks to me.

- I can't stand it. I got a B. There are only two grades in the world- A's and failures.

- John and Angela are at dinner. When they get the check, John begins to argue with the Asian waiter over the price of the wine. As they leave, John says "That Chink really pissed me off, who does he think he is?"

- I wouldn't hire Hank Bell; he was always getting into trouble with the police when he was in high school.


Solution Preview

1. - You're either my friend or my enemy. (This is polarizing as it is making a comparison between extremes without room for any middle ground.)
It could be rewritten as: "Let's not be enemies, surely there must be a way we can work together."

2. Ken says to his wife Lynette, "Glad to get out of that job. All those ragheads and their curry make me sick." (This sentence is definitely biased and could also be considered stereotyping. The biased part is the reference to Indian people as "ragheads," a derogatory term. The stereotyping includes both the raghead and curry statements, indicating that all Indians cover their heads and eat curry.)
Rewritten: "What I won't miss about my last job is working with Indian people and the strong smell of curry in their food." While this statement is still not very nice it does avoid the stereotyping and bias of the previous sentence.

3. Guess what? Janine said Chris has a good job. Can you imagine saying that when he works 50 hours a week, is on call the rest of the time, and only earns ...

Solution Summary

This solution is an analysis of language problems that lead to problems in communication between people. Examples are examined and a better way of communicating the idea is explored.