In the Face of Fear

Intruder breaking into a home.

Image from: Wtop News


By: Rehann Rheel

Frozen in Fear:

I paused where I stood and stared at the form lying on my living room couch. My brain, still slow to process information this early in the morning, slowly ticked off the things it knew I wasn’t seeing. I wasn’t seeing my mom or my aunt, because I could hear them a few yards away, in different rooms. I wasn’t seeing my sister, because she does not have man feet or such holey socks. And I wasn’t seeing some employee of my mother’s that she’d asked to house sit for the night because that didn’t even make any sense. So that meant…what I was seeing was…

An intruder.

In my house.

Sleeping on my couch. 

I had to warn somebody. My sister, my mom, my aunt—and myself, of course—were all in danger. But when I tried to call out, nothing happened. Like whatever neurons connected my brain to my vocal cords didn’t exist. 

Stupid, stupid. 

Plan B, then. Getaway, go to the adults and warn them via the most intense game of charades I’ve ever played. 

I had better success with Plan B. Slowly backing away (because I was afraid that the intruder wasn’t sleeping and that he’d leap up like a ninja the second my back was turned and stab me), I left the living room, then the breakfast nook, and finally reached the kitchen where my aunt was pondering wooden pieces on the ground; wooden pieces I knew must be from the door the intruder came through. 

When there was finally a wall between me and the intruder, I got some control of my vocal cords back. Enough to rasp, “Look! Look!” as I gesticulated at the living room.

The concept of “fight or flight” is thrown around a lot—in TV, books, anything. But what I did that day—at least at first—was neither fight nor flight: it was freeze. 


The Science of Fear:

Fear is a not-so-dear friend of mine. You see, I am an easily startled person, and can hardly make it a day without being scared by some unexpected sound or presence. But despite my frenemy status with fear, I don’t actually know how it works. Turns out, fear is an extremely complicated, multi-step process that happens in less than a second.

First, comes the object of fear. Maybe it’s a speeding car or a murder hornet or just a strand of hair you thought was a spider because you forgot that you dyed your hair a darker color. When faced with this object, the eyes and/or ears send the sights or sounds directly to the amygdala, the part of the brain involved in processing emotions. The amygdala looks at the information it’s been given and sounds the alarm, sending a distress signal to the hypothalamus. (Harvard Health, 2020).

So, next, the hypothalamus takes charge. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that talks to all the rest of the body via the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system has two very important parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The former is what lights a fire under our feet, so to speak, and triggers the fight or flight response (Harvard Health, 2020).


 

 

Labeled view of brain.

Image from: The University of Queensland


Fight or Flight:

The term “fight or flight” has been in use since the 1920s (fight or fight or flapper, anyone?). It describes the reactions we exhibit when faced with a threat—perceived or real (Schmidt et al., 2008).

“Accurately or not, if you assess the immediately menacing force as something you potentially have the power to defeat, you go into fight mode. In such instances, the hormones released by your sympathetic nervous system—especially adrenaline—prime you to do battle and, hopefully, triumph over the hostile entity,” said Leon F Seltzer, Ph.D. (Seltzer, 2015).

However, if you take a look at the threat you’re facing and realize that there’s no way you’d ever make it out of that particular battle scratch-free, the body wants to flee (Seltzer, 2015).


Fear response model.

Image from: The Royal Society


…Or Freeze:

Okay, so both fight and flight make biological sense. But what about freeze? How can a (seemingly) total loss of bodily control when faced with some foe be beneficial? Turns out, it is. Because sometimes, a person can find themselves in a situation where they know they can’t overpower the object of their fear, but neither can they outrun it. That’s when the freeze response kicks in (Schmidt et al., 2008).

Let’s say that—heaven forbid—you’re being attacked. It’s too late to run, and your assailant is stronger than you. In this situation, the freeze response can help you to escape the physical, mental, and emotional pain you’d be otherwise experiencing. And this disassociation can actually preserve your sanity. In such a situation, some of the chemicals our bodies secrete, like endorphins, can act as a kind of painkiller. Also, it’s possible that if an attacker—be it human or animal—feels that their victim isn’t playing along, they might just get bored and stop the attack altogether (Seltzer, 2015).

It’s important to note that the freeze response is a little different from the concept of “tonic immobility,” which is something demonstrated by animals in the wild when they play dead. Playing dead often means “motor and vocal inhibition,” but these two characteristics aren’t necessarily tied to the freeze response (Schmidt et al., 2008).

It’s also important to note that the freeze response isn’t a passive state, or the failure to act. Instead, it’s more like the information gathering stage of fear. The senses take in the situation, the brain develops a plan, and the body prepares to act on that plan in various ways like increasing muscle tone and suppressing pain (Roelofs, 2017).

In addition, studies have shown that people might be predisposed to the freeze response. A study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found that, “The majority of items that were more highly associated with freeze included those focused on cognitive symptoms of anxiety (e.g., confusion, unreality, detached, concentration, inner shakiness) as well as fear of losing control” (Schmidt et al., 2008). This is supported by numerous fear studies involving rats; those with a genetic predisposition to anxiety were significantly more prone to freezing than non-anxious rats (Roelofs, 2017).


In the Face of Rheel Fear:

Thankfully, that day with the guy on the couch ended without anybody being harmed. All four of us escaped the house while the intruder continued to slumber, and he only stirred when the cops woke him up (Talk about a rude awakening). But the “what ifs” still sneak up on me, even 12 years later. What if my hesitation put my life at risk? What if my hesitation put my family’s lives at risk? 

Betsy Huggett, director of the Diane Peppler Resource Center, went through a similar dilemma. A trained soldier, Betsy was confident that she knew what to do when the base’s sirens went off. However, instead of going to the station as she’d trained to do, she ran. “My training failed me,” she thought at first. “But what I really felt was that I failed. I didn’t feel like my training failed; I failed” (Huggett, 2019). 

But we didn’t fail. I didn’t fail. Freezing is part of the natural human reaction, just like fight and flight. It serves a purpose, just like fight and flight. And it has its pros and cons, just like fight and flight. If the intruder had been a light sleeper, too much sound or movement could have awakened him, and then the story I tell as an ice breaker might have had a much more sobering ending. 

Still, I have to admit that, if I ever find myself in a similar situation again, I hope I draw the Flight card, so I can get me and mine the heck out of Dodge.

The Upper Limit to the Speed of Sound

Military jet rapidly acceleratingImage from: Pixabay


A recent study has emerged unveiling the absolute speed of a wave traveling through solids to be 22.4 km per second (22.4 miles per second). The researching physicists concluded that when combining the constant of fine structure and the proton to electron mass ratio in one singular equation, a new dimensionless constant is formed representing the upper bound for the speed of sound. Throughout this piece, I plan on breaking down the complex algorithms and jargon to make it more approachable to read. In addition, I want to shed light on how the physical sciences can correlate to the realm of communication by intertwining the two and showing how with equations such as this, it can be communicated to other disciplines. This is a dramatic breakthrough in the physics world and needs to be understood as it could impact the future of how we understand our natural world.

To start, the overall focus of this study was to come up with an equation that can be used to find the upper bound for the speed of sound. In other words, they found the maximum possible speed that sound can travel through solids and liquids. Initially, Einstein’s theory of special relativity calculated that a wave could travel at peak velocity at 300,000 km per second (186,000 miles per second). However, this is the velocity traveling through the air and not solids or liquids (which drastically reduces the speed of a sound wave). Up until now, this cap of speed was simply not able to be calculated. This finding allows physicists to understand more about how waves interact with the world. It can be as practical as waves hitting a building’s structure or waves impacting other planets such as gas giants like Jupiter. As mentioned, this is a complex equation that needs to be broken down into sections in order to understand. To start, knowledge of a simple wave must be known.

Within the realm of physics, a wave is the displacement of particles that move in a path like waves seen in water. Waves can be broken down into three main categories: mechanical, electromagnetic, and matter (see image below for physical example). The two that are critical to understanding this new study are mechanical and electromagnetic. Mechanical waves require an oscillation of matter to transfer energy in a wave pattern. These can be experienced in the form of waves in the ocean or soundwaves. The only caveat to this type of wave is the oscillation of matter acting as a medium; mediums being a way to carry the wave onward such as the air with sound waves. Electromagnetic waves contrast mechanical as they do not require a medium and instead move through a vacuum (a space devoid of matter).  As mentioned, these two types of waves are needed to understand the process of finding the upper bound for the speed of sound. To start this study, two main constants need to be present.



Sound wave examplesImage from: Wikimedia Commons


The two constants that are needed for this study are the constant of fine structure and the proton to electron mass ratio. The constant of fine structure is used to explain the strength of the electromagnetic force and offers a way to compare how electrons (negative charge particle) and photons (light particle) interact. The actual value of this constant is surprisingly simple as 1/137. This is important to the equation as the relationship between matter and light (the purpose of this constant) is needed to multiply with the proton to electron ratio. The proton to electron ratio is simply the mass of a proton compared to the mass of an electron. It is a common constant that is seen throughout various equations. By this constant, the ratio of mass is 1,836.153. In the found equation, this constant was used to multiply against the constant of fine structure. Kostya Trachenko, physicists who worked on this ratio, was quoted saying, “If you change these constants by a few percent, then the proton might not be stable anymore, and you might not even have the processes in stars resulting in the synthesis of heavy elements”.  Thankfully in this equation, the ratio is not changed at all. Now that the different parts of the equation have been explained, the discovered equation can be explained.

So, the equation the physicists came up with is a combination of all the parts described earlier. Their research unveiled this equation:


Created equation on the upper limit to the speed of soundEquation from: Science Advances


First and foremost, the equation’s structure comes from an alteration to Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Now each symbol represents a constant/number:

Vu = upper bound for the speed of sound

C = speed of light

α = constant of fine structure

(me/2mp) = proton to electron ratio

As mentioned earlier, the constant of fine structure is multiplied by the proton to electron ratio (this portion is up to the ½ as that is part of Einstein’s theory of special relativity). These two multiplied constants offer the constant for the upper bound for the speed of sound, Vu. With this, there is no set-in-stone unit to this equation as Vu depends on the type of matter the sound wave is traveling. Thus, there is a range for the upper bound for the speed of sound which comes out to .6 to 2.4 km per second. On a side note, the constant for the upper bound for the speed of sound is over the speed of light, C, as the speed of sound coincides with the speed of light. For example, lightning is always seen before heard.

Now how does this have anything to do with communication you might be asking? Well this equation can tie into other disciplines such as architecture or astronomy. Within the realm of architecture, architects can use the equation to study how waves effect buildings. This is critical in areas such as in California where seismic waves from earthquakes constantly effect building foundations. The equation can aid these architects to determine the proper strength/resistance these buildings need to stay in tact. In astronomy, astrologists can use the equation to determine how certain gaseous planets function.


An image of JupiterImage from: Wikimedia Commons


In one test, they concluded that further research can be continued on waves passing through other planets. One main example they displayed is how waves could react with gaseous planets such as Jupiter. In the study, the constant worked with the density and pressure of gasses found on the planet, specifically atomic hydrogen. This allowed the astrologists to get a deeper understanding of the planet and unveil more characteristics that were previously left to the unknown.

This equation is a massive breakthrough for more than just physicists. It is a breakthrough that can span over countless disciplines. It allows for further investigation to occur within the physical world on Earth and the cosmic world of space. This only begs the question as to what can be discovered next and how far this constant can take us in understanding the natural world as we know it.

Conquering the Correlating Crises of COVID-19 and Climate Control

Skyline of an factory pollution.

Image from: The European Wilderness Society


This piece is a proposed assertion of combining efforts to eliminate issues within America and presents a call to action in the possibility of cohesion within the spectrums of public health and environmental engineers.


At a time where crises are ransacking the United States, it can seem overwhelming what situation to conquer first. A widespread pandemic is halting life as we know it, natural disasters are tearing apart our structures, and racial tensions splitting apart once a unified nation, it is truly a time where these situations are making it seem like there no solution in sight.

Despite this, there is a glimmer of hope where there is an opportunity to tackle two birds with one stone. What I mean by this is that the situations of climate control and COVID-19 can be worked on simultaneously.

Over the past few months, the COVID-19 virus has infected 11,355,175 individuals across the U.S. and has taken the lives of 251,812 of that total. What is even more striking is that individuals living in areas where air pollution is a major problem, there is a drastic jump in the death rate of infected individuals. A recent Harvard study concluded that the “COVID-19 mortality rate ratios per 1 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 and 95% CI using daily cumulative COVID-19 death counts”. Technical jargon aside, this study determined that excessive exposure to polluted air drastically increased the number of deaths in infected individuals.

Not only that, rapidly developing natural disasters such as the west coast wildfires are forcing people out of their homes and taking them out of an environment where social distancing was taking place. A New England medical journal even observed this behavior firsthand as cooling centers that were protecting those evacuated from the wildfires ended up contaminating those same people with the COVID-19 virus as they were all placed into one, densely populated, center.


Environmental engineers surveying the land.Image from: Wikimedia Commons


So how can both problems of COVID-19 and climate control be solved simultaneously? I feel that the proper allocation of healthcare professionals and environmental engineers needs to be put in place as well as having the two groups of experts work together to implement corresponding policies. It is absolutely possible and absolutely necessary that this action takes place as it will place our great country in a position to once again succeed and flourish.

Firstly, having the proper allocation of healthcare and environmental engineers would put these two issues at the forefront of priorities. Obviously, healthcare professionals are on the front lines every day tackling this disease. With this, environmental engineers need to be marked as prevalent and placed at a higher degree. You can go onto any news site and see constant updates on every facet of the virus. Meanwhile, environmental engineers are left with rare updates on any form of climate control information. They need to be more prevalent and readily available for us as the populace to see.

In addition to this allocation, I feel that these two groups need to find a way to work together to conquer the same goal. As mentioned earlier, there are direct correlations between COVID-19 and climate control. Both can find a way to shape environmental and health policies that are in place today. For instance, deforestation policies could be developed with the aid of healthcare professionals as the devastation to biodiversity is one of the major leading causes of climate change as well as the infectious disease spread from loss of slow animal migrations. Having healthcare professionals included in this research and policy development could be a way to both solve climate control and the COVID-19 spread.


Landscape view of a city.Image from: Pixy


Going off the idea of having healthcare professionals and environmental engineers working together, I feel that they would also be able to resolve the everlasting issue of air pollution. Specifically, with greenhouse gas emissions, environmental engineers can put a plan into action with the guiding support of healthcare professionals. One such plan that is currently in place is called Cap and Trade. This policy focuses on created a cap for businesses and households on the number of greenhouse gasses that their ventures. This is more of an economic plan but is being worked to reward those who use cleaner energy sources to solve the emission crisis. Healthcare professionals would be an excellent addition to this policy as they can add input on the proper emission level that would stop disease respiratory infections via air pollution.

The COVID-19 disease and constant natural issues have placed the United States in a stagnant position where it seems like no progress is being made to better our country. I feel that if our healthcare professionals and environmental engineers can come together and operate as a unit, these two issues can be finally resolved. Unifying the professionals and allowing them to communicate on their developments within our country would in return, finally unify this country in moving forward to excel and prosper better than we were before this crisis.

Reclaiming Her Life: How a Tragic Loss Sparked an Inner Purpose to Combat Teen Drug Abuse

Reclaiming My Life book cover.


Early in my young adult life, I had encountered a tragic event that an average teenager should never have to face. A tragic event that no one should ever have to face. At the young age of 18, my beloved cousin Robert had passed away from a drug overdose. There is not a word in the English dictionary that could have expressed the grief and sorrow that my family felt and I could not emphasize enough that no person should ever have to experience that kind of pain. With that pain; however, a glimmer of hope did surface.

In this post, I want to highlight a hero that emerged from Rob’s passing, my Aunt, Tammy Lofink. She was faced with the worst fear that any parent could have, and even worse, the lingering grief and suffering that became a permanent mark on her life. Despite this, Tammy was able to use her grief as motivation. She found purpose in becoming an activist for teen drug addiction and planned on making it a goal in her life to combat this crisis.

In 2015, one year after the passing of Rob, Tammy formed the organization Rising Above Addiction. This is a nonprofit organization based in Carroll County, Maryland. Their primary goal is to focus on the community by hosting countless charity events that bring people together, educate them on the dangers of drug abuse, and raise money to help those in need. Over the years, they have hosted events such as softball games, barbeques, Running and Riding for Recovery, golf tournaments, and the event that kicked off this organization, sky diving events. With each event, a tighter bond connects each community member. More importantly, it presents an opportunity for inclusion for those struggling with drug addiction.


Rising Above Addiction Organization Logo


This organization brings those individuals together and lets them know that they are not alone in their battles. Tammy quotes on this inclusion as she states in her book, “we recognize that when someone is under the influence of drugs, they are not always capable of making the decision to get help. The goal is that after detox, individuals make the decision to stay in treatment. My mission and my vision are to make treatment available to all who are ready”. That mission and vision only continued to grow as she has gone on to open two sober homes (Reclaiming My Life and Keeping My Serenity). In these sober homes, “a group of men or a group of women share a same-gender house in hopes of re-entry into the community as productive members”. These homes offer a chance at rehabilitation and a chance to achieve a normal life that the evils of drugs had taken away.

As I have consistently mentioned throughout this post, she has also written a book that has truly forwarded her movement on combating drug addiction. Tammy Lofink, with Sylvia Blair editing, wrote the book Reclaiming My Life. This book presents a captivating journey that my Aunt has taken through life, especially when detailing Robert and his constant battle with drug abuse. She does not hold back as each page, each word holds such an impactful meaning of love. I want to specifically point out how she connects herself to Robert throughout the book. It offers a great parallel between individuals, adding to her struggle in trying to save him and highlighting Rob as this overarching angel that has guided her throughout her countless efforts to make sure no parent ever has to go through what she did. With the goal in mind to find inner peace in her tragedy and to help others find comfort in their situations regarding addiction, she was able to communicate her story and offering a chance for others to get the help they need with addiction.

Whether it was through her words on paper or her actions assembling an organization that allows those a second chance, Tammy was able to make the difference and I feel has solidified herself as a hero in every sense of the word. When I envision effective communication methods, my Aunt ultimately displayed this in the face of adversity. Her words have been able to start a movement in Maryland by helping those who truly need it. Even more commendable, she was able to bring light to Rob and his passing. Her book, her organization, the countless lives she was able to save by giving them a second chance in the fight against drug addiction, everything was for him and in his spirit.

I am blessed to be able to have such a strong and dedicated member of my family. Even more, I am extremely grateful for having the chance to write about and pass along her accomplishments. In concluding this post, I felt it would be fitting to speak in the words of my Aunt, the way I feel she would end it just like she does in her book:

“For you, Because of you, and In Memory of You”.

Faculty Spotlight: Kip Soteres

Faculty Photo of Kip Soteres

 


For this week’s post, I chose to conduct a faculty spotlight interview on Kip Soteres. With 20 years of experience in change communication, he has not only made a valuable impact on the field of communication but also on the students he teaches. In this interview, I chose to ask questions regarding both communication as well as his personal interests and how they intertwine:


Q.) One of the first things that struck me was that you are initially from a business background and merged that with a passion for communication. Would you be able to talk about how this combination of business and communication came to be within your professional career and highlight the path that those two disciplines have taken you up to this point in your career?

A.) I actually started my college career as a Creative Writing major and pursued that for about fifteen years. I studied with some very talented poets, received an MFA in poetry, and went to live and write in Athens, Greece. Even then, I was interested in philosophy, especially ethics, and my reading and thinking in those areas have served me well in both business and academic roles. I also had to make a living. So I started teaching English as a Foreign Language. After a short time, I realized that I didn’t like my textbooks, so I asked one of the owners at the language school if I could write my own. My point is that over time I pursued my passions and fed my curiosity. I didn’t have a master plan, or rather – I had several that never came fully to fruition – but the skills I kept learning prepared me for the next opportunity and adventure when the time came.

One way that I think I distinguish myself is a consultant is that I have a deeper appreciation for the strength and beauty of language. Your communication classes don’t always pause to have you listen to FDR’s first fireside chats, for example. Academia is your opportunity to find those prose stylists who write with simplicity and clarity, and who do it with considerable sensitivity to the channels they are writing for and the audiences they are addressing.

Communication theory also gives me a broader-than-average range of lenses that I can use to analyze problems. It’s not like I go to clients and say, “Let’s see how a Kotter change management approach might apply,” or “Let’s see what a Positive Deviance approach will shake loose.” But I have these different tools at my disposal, and that perhaps helps me present a broader and more creative array of options to clients facing tough problems. The reverse is true as well in that I bring my consulting experience to bear on than teaching and advising that I do. I think students value the ways we collaborate to connect the theory and research to life and work.

At its core, language is how humans build our worlds – both the private worlds that we inhabit as individuals and the shared worlds we create in our various social interactions. Through language and because of language, we have the potential to create that world anew every single day, though perhaps too often we choose to live in the same one for extended periods of time. Both in academia and through my consulting practice, I spend the bulk of my time engaging with others to tap into the massive potential that unfolds each day when we open our eyes in the morning.


Q.) How do you see the field of communication expanding in the future? I know that communication is an ever-evolving subject but how do you see it going further in today’s age?

A.) I think it’s going to take a long time for every social science to work through the foundation-shattering evolution of social media. It can take the form of remote work, gamification, learning tools, news feeds, office chat, and file-sharing apps and platforms like Teams, or just straight up evaluations of the dominant channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok, etc.

Whatever facet you choose to explore, these tools/apps/platforms amount to an unprecedented power to amplify the best and worst of human networks. Information and disinformation have never been easier to create and disseminate. Our ability to wall ourselves off from disparate perspectives has never been easier. The people working in these spaces and addressing the challenges and opportunities that come with it – that’s going to be very important work with implications that will shape what our society looks like for decades to come.


Q.) You are also involved with creative writing as a personal interest. Being an English major in my undergraduate studies I am always impressed with how writers can convey engaging stories from a variety of platforms. Would you be able to touch on where this love of writing came from and some of the inspiration your published works came from?

A.) My writing is a compulsion. I think it’s important to read and appreciate good writing because that’s how it gets into your bones. That’s a different activity than just reading to lose yourself in the story. It’s learning to take as much conscious pleasure in the evocation of a moment or a feeling, or in the structure of a dramatic twist, as you do in the unfolding narrative. I’d recommend going back to the writing that you most enjoy and ask yourself specifically what it is that you like about it.

So one main source of inspiration for me has always been the writing of others. I notice an effect that moves me or just strikes me as beautiful, and I ask myself what I could write that would let me practice achieving the same effect. That applies to all genres, by the way, including non-fiction. I’ve been very omnivorous in my reading and that reflects the many genres of writing that I’ve attempted – poetry, literary fiction, young adult fiction, fantasy fiction, opera and musical theater librettos, plays, film scripts, etc. For heaven’s sake, I emcee a monthly Opera and art music theory on YouTube each month – Aria412. Check us out on YouTube! Lots of variances and so many great relationships across all of it.

I guess it’s worth mentioning that I don’t think I’m particularly good at it. But in the end, I hope people will largely agree that I brought my best self forward in the effort. In any case, that’s why I started off by saying it’s a compulsion. And I think my lifelong aspiration to be a great creative writer has made me a better person in other respects. It invites me to be empathetic. It encourages a world view that goes beyond mere utility. It helps me to remember that we are here in this life to inspire one another and to promote well being and happiness so far as we are capable.


Q.) Has being an instructor in communication and teaching the subject inversely taught you anything? Of course, there is the old saying that you never stop learning but is there anything that teaching has brought about that you wouldn’t have been exposed to without this experience?

A.) I learn at least as much as my students do every time that I teach. The perspectives of students coming through the graduate programs give me a real sense of where communication is going, where your interests are, what you care about. But with every class, as I do the reading along with you, I also refresh on theories that I’d forgotten about – new approaches to problem-solving. It’s always incredibly energizing. Of course, I’m fortunate to have such a varied life. I get to do my creative writing and participate in communities of the performing arts – my consultancy is thriving – and I get to teach topics that I’m passionate about. I don’t know that I’d be happy doing any one of those activities all of the time. But I’m delighted to be doing them together.


Q.) Finally, what kind of advice would you give to an incoming graduate student or someone who is thinking of continuing their education within the field of communication? Is there anything they should expect or should be prepared to be exposed to?

A.) Be tirelessly curiously throughout your life, but especially now. Use this time as a graduate student to explore ideas and pursue your passions unabashedly. Don’t worry about connecting the dots at first – read as much as you can and engage with each other (even if it’s only through Zoom) to have those intense graduate school conversations that are part of your degree – not just what you do in the classroom or as a part of taking classes.

I also think it’s never been more important to have broad and varied skillsets. In addition to the theory and academic topics that come pretty automatically as part of the curriculum, learn a little about as much as you can about graphic design, HTML, social media metrics, press releases, how to build a good survey, how to write a speech, how to develop a lesson plan or give a presentation. Or get outside the box entirely and interact a little with the other Social Sciences. Whatever you’re learning, challenge yourself to cross-relate it to other topics and to think of ways to put it into practice.

The more disparate items that you pull together, the more flexible you can be in your career choices, and the more likely that you will be able to spot opportunities that take you down fulfilling career paths. I’ve been a learning omnivore all of my life and taking joy in learning for its own sake. I’ve coupled that with a knack for being able to take theories and ideas and apply them for practical impact. Putting those things together has led to a career that I have found to be rich and varied, and it has also expanded my social network in ways that I think go beyond what a lot of people get to experience.

Finally, about a year or two ago I helped Chatham University organize a forum of Internal Communication leaders from major employers in the region. When I asked them what they were looking for in a new hire, they all said the same thing: “We’re looking for people who can write with clarity and sensitivity. In particular, we need communicators who can adapt their writing style and approach depending on the situation, the channel, and the audience.” So don’t neglect your writing and communication skills across all media. It will serve you very well, no matter what you end up deciding to do.


I would like to thank Kip for being able to conduct this interview and be able to share with others his thoughts and experiences. It is always a pleasure being able to work with him, especially this time being out of a class setting. Being able to pick the brain of an academic like like Kip is such a rewarding experience and I hope others get to see the value in an interview such as this. More importantly and to what Kip says, “It will serve you well, no matter what you end up deciding to do.”

Easily Maneuver Conflict Resolution in the Workplace: Tips and Advice for Navigating Controversial Topics in the Corporate Sphere

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept

From firing an employee to the latest office email chain about the current state of American politics, you will inevitably encounter difficult topics, and even conflicts, in the workplace. However, you can easily maneuver these difficult discussions without causing any office drama. Here are a few tips for managing those difficult interactions so that effective workplace communication can continue throughout the workday.

  • First, stick to the facts and leave your emotions at home.

Leave beliefs and emotions out of it. Besides being unprofessionally and a tad bit tacky, emotional reactivity in workplace interactions can skew your perception of the situation. If responding to an email, heed the advice of Patricia O’Conner from her book Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English and give yourself a moment of pause to cool off before pressing Send.

  • Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Don’t sugar-coat your intended message. Doing this will ultimately sacrifice clarity, meaning, and intention, and at the root of most miscommunications is unclear, poorly expressed ideas. So, though it is always important to well-articulate when you communicate in the workplace, it is downright imperative to articulate your message well in situations of potential communication breakdown. Thus, when difficult topics arise in the workplace, be certain to rhetorically strategize before engaging in the conversation by:

  • contemplating the purpose of your message,
  • considering the audience of your message,
  • choosing an amenable tone that will be well-received with word-choice that concisely expresses your message without unnecessary verbiage, and
  • contemplating the limitations of your chosen delivery method (such as losing tone and inflections through email and text, lacking time for contemplation before speaking in face-to-face discussions, etc.).

For more information about rhetorical situations, check out this detailed explanation from Norton Field Guide.

Following this advice will help save you from unnecessary, and sometimes angry and polarizing, miscommunications in the workplace. It’s much easier and less stressful to take the few minutes before engaging in difficult conversations at work than it is to speak reactively in the moment about difficult topics and sacrifice clarity, meaning, and intention.

  • Keep in mind that people are not their beliefs and ideologies.

Along with the advent of social media and instantaneous connectivity to one another, we have become conditioned to think of one another during disagreements as opponents and adversaries needing to be defeated rather than as our family, friends, and colleagues who simply have had different life experiences than us and, consequently, have different perspectives than us. In recent times, people tend to passionately debate their beliefs and ideologies as if they are facts, verified through empirical testing with non-negotiable test results. Because of this, it is best to completely avoid discussing any non-objective topics in the workplace, but when the topic is unavoidable, keep your wits about you and don’t forget that these are your coworkers and not the beliefs and ideologies with which you disagree.

  • Finally (but first and foremost), refuse to engage in unnecessary debates.

The best and most efficient way to clearly and effectively communicate in difficult, controversial conversations in the workplace is to simply refuse to engage and interact in conversations with tense, potentially volatile subject matter. Leave those discussions at home for in your spare time. Though you may need to discuss such topics for a project at work or it may be completely unavoidable for whatever reason, you and your colleagues can cooperatively set the tone for productive conversations by setting boundaries and ground rules for such discussions at work, especially for collaborative projects.

To recap, to achieve effective communication in workplace debates, refrain from allowing emotions to sway your argument or message, practice concision and precision using rhetorical situation analysis, humanize those people who disagree and debate with you, but most importantly, avoid unnecessary workplace debates.

To learn more about how to disagree productively, listen to Julia Dhar’s enlightening discussion Ted Talk entitled “How to Disagree Productively and Find Common Ground” about the fundamentals of productive debate skills.

Microcontent and what it Means for Communication and Technical Writing

The simplest definition of microcontent is text, image, or video content that can be consumed in 10-30 seconds. In 1998 Jakob Nielsen Originally defined microcontent as small groups of words a person can skim to understand the idea of the content on a Web page. This can include headlines, page titles, subject lines and email subjects included on a page or displayed on a search results page. microcontent is popular in marketing, social media, technical writing, and communication. The difference lies in structuring and creating microcontent for these disciplines.

According to Mike Hamilton of MadCap Software, “Microcontent must be short/concise, easily consumable and stand-alone”. Stand-alone content can be understood on its own without needing surrounding content to clarify its meaning. When content can stand alone it is reusable which is key for microcontent.

Microcontent is a paradigm shift, we must change our mind set for how we create content. We must understand that it is more than text, it is content that has meaning, purpose, and a job. When we create the content with an eye for conciseness, ability to be consumed, and information that can stand-alone and then focus on its delivery and use, we unlock new possibilities

The following are possible uses for Microcontent:

  1. Knowledge and job aids: Sales Prospecting assets, Pre-call Prep Tools
  2. Marketing and selling content: Conversation aids, preview videos
  3. Content source: Common phrases, common research or facts, and links to internal/external web reference articles.
  4. Search Engine Creation: Knowledge base, online help.
  5. Chatbot: Conversation design elements

The short phrase structure of microcontent lends well to for searches. Once the content is created a best practice would be to always make sure it is searchable. When content is created, it very quickly grows in volume and without a way to search the content can become less usable. You have to be able to find it.

MadCap Software has built a microcontent editor into its latest release of Madcap Flare 2019. This industry first allows content to be marked as microcontent or new microcontent be created then used in chatbots and to enhance help and knowledge base search results.

Whether you are creating social media posts and are addressing an audience with a short attention span or quick steps for job aids, this content can shrink while offering growth in engagement with customers, users and employees.

 

References

https://www.brafton.com/blog/creation/microcontent-what-is-it-and-why-do-you-need-it/

https://www.google.com/search?q=who+coined+the+phrase+microcontent&rlz=1C1GCEU_enUS819US819&oq=who+coined+the+phrase+microcontent&aqs=chrome..69i57.7491j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcontent

https://marketinginsidergroup.com/content-marketing/micro-content-important-content-type-dont-manage/

 

 

Flow Chart/Diagram Types and Terminology

I recently read a job posting for a technical writer where creating swimlane flow charts is a job requirement. I have created flow charts in the past, but this had me thinking what is a swimlane flow chart and what makes it different from other flow charts. I quick search engine query gave me the definition of swimlane flow charts.

Much of communicating and writing is knowing the right tool to use at the right time. Lets take a look at the types of flow charts and when they should be used.

What are Flow Charts

A flow chart is a diagram that represents a process, workflow, or data flow. In the diagram, steps are shown as boxes with arrows connecting them. The arrows indicate the flow of the information or data. Typically process or activity steps are denoted as rectangle boxes. Decisions re denoted as a diamond. This is a very simple explanation of what a flow chart is and its common symbols. There is more than one type of flow chart. Each has its own purpose depending on the industry or situation needing charted. The power of the chart is using the correct type to display the content. Together these bring meaning to the diagram.

Types of flow charts and their uses

  1. Process Map/Process Chart: This type of flow chart is used to map a process. These can be used to troubleshoot problems or provide walkthroughs for decisions. One example of a process map would be to fill an order. Each step in the process leads to its own string of possible decisions and actions.
  2. Swimlane Flow Chart: Swimlanes shows distinct but linked processes in a process. The swimlanes, much like those in a pool, divide actions and decisions into separate lanes. The lanes can represent who is responsible for the process. This could be employee roles or the uses for a piece such as internal vs. client facing.
  3. Workflow Diagram: Workflows are a visual representation of a process. Each step of the process is shown so simplifies complex processes. This allows viewers to focus on one step at a time. These can also include the length of time each step should take. A nursing agency may make such a diagram for their staff to follow while admitting new patients or human resources could make a diagram for the request and approval of employee vacation time.
  4. Data Flow Diagram: Data flows show how data moves through an information system. They are used most often in system design and analysis.

 

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowchart

https://www.gliffy.com/blog/six-flowchart-types-templates

https://www.smartdraw.com/flowchart/flowchart-types.htm

LinkedIn vs. The Resume

More than a few times I have sent a coworker or acquaintance a link to a video on LinkedIn only to hear, ‘I do not have LinkedIn’. When I inquire as to the reason, the response is some variation of ‘I am not looking for a job so I do not need it’. Linked in is used to connect with hiring managers and recruiters but is also a way to network and connect with others in your industry. Keeping on top of industry news, managing professional contacts, and using the profile to build you personal brand are invaluable features of LinkedIn.

Spring has sprung and graduation is around the corner. Let’s look at the value of not only having a LinkedIn profile, but whether it should be different than your resume. The answer is a clear Yes, your LinkedIn profile and resume should not be identical. Each of these is a tool. Each of these has a different mission, purpose, and audience. Because of this each should be tailored to suit their purposes.

LinkedIn Profile

When you have a LinkedIn profile you are online and searchable. Recruiters search for candidates online through sites such as LinkedIn often before posing a position on a job board or database. When used this way, linked in does function as your resume but is more casual. You have the opportunity to use adjectives you may not include in your resume and to include nonwork-related certifications. This personal information can help a recruiter connect with you on a personal level to evaluate whether you will fit the culture at the hiring company.

The first impression. Often the LinkedIn profile is the first thing a recruiter or employer sees. If your profile is outdated or contains inaccurate information, it may lead to a bad impression. LinkedIn Profiles allow you to create a visual brand for yourself. Be sure to include the following to make your profile visually appealing and brand yourself:

  1. Profile picture: Choose a picture which shows you from the shoulders up in a neutral or office background. This should not be in selfie style.
  2. Banner Image: The banner image is a rectangle bar which appears at the top of your profile. The profile picture overlaps the banner. This author uses a cropped image from the cover page of the company’s user guides. It is colorful, graphical, and contains the company name, logo, web address, and physical address.
  3. Summary: The summary section allows you to convey who you are and what you want to do. This is more than what you can do for a company, this is your passion for your industry.
  4. Text Symbols: Symbols such as a lightning bolt, music note, pen, or keyboard to name a few can be added to your headline, summary, or anywhere else in your profile where you want to stand out. This may not be for everyone but used sparingly can be an eye catcher. See Symbols to spice up your LinkedIn profile for a larger list of symbols and how to add them.

Resume

Resumes may be emailed, mailed, exchanged during an interview or uploaded to a Human Recourses Information System (HRIS). These are physical documents which are formal and their delivery is usually targeted toward a specific job or recruiter. The story for each job or task is conveyed with minimal words in a few lines. STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) bulleted points are fairly standard.

While you will have one LinkedIn profile, you may have multiple resumes. It is necessary to tailor resumes to specific job titles or industries. Each resume lists what you have done which qualifies you for the position you are applying for. LinkedIn profiles are what you are doing now and what you are looking toward in the future.

Images and branding are not included in a resume. The more plain-text a resume is the easier it can be imported to a HRIS. At the intersection of Human resources and information technology lies HRIS. One feature of these systems is for job applicants to upload their resume to a resume parser. The system identifies the parts and puts the information into a standard format specified by the company. This helps the recruiter evaluate candidates by putting each individual resume into the same format. The recruiter can focus on the content of the resume without struggling to figure out the layout. Resume’s with tabs or those organized by job role may not import easily leaving the applicant with a lot of manual entry into the HRIS.

How Different

How different your LinkedIn profile is from your resume is a matter of debate. Both should serve their purpose and audience, but you must be comfortable with how each portrays you and your skill set. Be clear in your choices and be able to speak to the differences of the profile and resume. A recruiter may ask you to explain the differences between the two. Having you explain your choices can help them evaluate how you think and whether your thought process makes you a better fit for the position.

Resources:

https://www.topresume.com/career-advice/why-linkedin-is-important

https://fremont.edu/why-building-your-linkedin-profile-is-so-important/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140423001152-22901019-symbols-to-spice-up-your-linkedin-profile/

https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/07/09/7-ways-your-resume-and-linkedin-profile-should-differ

https://www.hrpayrollsystems.net/hris/

Role of Technical Writers Industry 4.0

The Information 4.0 Writer

The changes that are happening in Industry 4.0 will change the role of the technical writer. How and When are the questions to be answered. As technical writers we explain things, processes, and how to perform tasks. With Industry 4.0 that will continue but the technologies we write about and those that we use will change along with Industry 4.0. Information 4.0 is the change in technical writing that corresponds with Industry 4.0; the trends and technology that will make technical writing possible. Information 4.0 brings technical writing to a highly advanced technical level.

How will Content Change

Because Industry 4.0 is beginning now, Information 4.0 is only a concept. We do not have all the answers to how to create materials, what tools (do the tools even exist), or what materials to create. Preparation is our best ally in this phase. We can evaluate what we know now, and we can plan for the changes as we see them happening.

The Information 4.0 Consortium has identified 4 characteristics of content in Information 4.0. These characteristics embody not only the words that are written, but the format, chunking, release, timeliness, accessibility, and responsiveness to context of that information.

  • Dynamic: Content chunks that can be updated in real-time. When information in the system changes, the content or the user should be able to trigger its build or generation, rather than the writer.
  • Ubiquitous: Content available everywhere, independent of device. It must be online searchable and findable.
  • Offered: Specific content made available when users encounter an issue rather than all information related to all tasks all the time. Content is online, print medium is ruled out.
  • Spontaneous: Content triggered by the context. Meaning the orientation of the device being used or perhaps a specific context for an issue. An example is that information for de-icing a plane would only be available if the outside temperature is near 32 degrees.

Let’s say you need to produce instructions for 5 new system changes for 6 different users or types of users who have 4 distinct roles as users. This means that you will have to produce numerous sets of instructions; unique to each user. The difficulty is in managing these permutations of content without error.

How will Technical Writer Tools Change

Without a tool that applies these characteristics to content, it is just theory. With a tool, these characteristics can be implemented.  There is not a tool that can be used to implement all the characteristics to content. The best strategy for us as writers is to be prepared for what we image the changes may be:

  • Set standards and enforce/teach them: For a standard that content is to be independent of format, instruct writers to avoid inline formatting and use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for formatting.
  • Keep tools up-to date: When using a technology tool, take each update. If you try to move from version 8 to version 12 there may be some functionality that has depreciated. Deprecated features are features that remain in software but are not updated. At some time, these features will be removed. If the leap between the past and new software versions is too great, there can be functionality issues.
  • Seek out new industry tools: Whether you look for new tools to solve an existing problem or are just watching new trends in the industry, new tools will be developed to handle Information 4.0. Here are a few organizations and standards to watch for developing tools:
    • Dublin Core: an initiative to create a digital library card catalog for the Web made up of d15 metadata elements. Metadata is data about data.
    • Resource Description Framework (RDF): World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specifications for how to describe Internet resources such as a Web site and its content. These descriptions are referred to as metadata.
    • Fluid Topics: Captures content in any format to deliver on-the-spot knowledge tailored to the reader and suited to the channel.
  • Keep up with training: It is best to participate in training of existing and new technologies. A common misconception is that workers are smart enough to pick up the material or can research and teach themselves. Thought this is true, there is a possibility of bad habits being perpetuated through the organization if the self-taught employee teaches others their ‘bad habits. It is best to learn how the tool works and should be used by those who designed the tool or by industry experts.

How with Technical Writer Skills Change

As industry changes and technical writer tools change, so must the skills of the technical writer. Let’s look at machine generated text as an example.

For example, if there is a system for hospital equipment maintenance and repair and during a routine automated inspection of a piece of equipment a repair is determined to be necessary. The system will generate necessary reports for management and financial, as well as a full description of what was fixed for an automated fix or a set of repair instructions for a manual fix.

In this case the technical writer will not write the text. The writer becomes a rule maker and curator or the content; they will setup the system to generate specific pieces of content, for specific users, under specific situations.

With this content tailored approach writers will be geared toward writing 500 one-page documents rather than one 500-page book. The content is written in smaller chunks that can be put together in any order, for any different user, for any different state or condition.  The tools to come will handle the mechanics of how this occurs, but writers must understand the mechanics of what data, for whom, when and under what conditions.