Teaching Communicators
6 Questions for Effectiveness
Linda (Elle) Yaven
I. Who Speaks? 

As a kid, growing up in Brooklyn, the Fall weather was beautiful when school began. So here it is again, the start of Fall classes - only now it's California and I'm teaching what I love.

Teaching in person again after a year of not. Appreciating only now, how once it was taken for granted.

Back then, I liked walking through campus at the close of the semester, just after Finals were done and deliverables turned in.

I teach generative communication in an MBA program housed in a college of Art, Design and Architecture.

We attract students keen on new models of leadership and creative strategies for positive change.

The studios on campus, recently a rich mess of students cramming, jamming or asleep on couches, are empty. Just a week before, patterns, architectural renderings, canvas, balsa wood, foam core, paper, drawing tools and fabric are everywhere over all the available surfaces. Not to mention video, cameras and lighting. Tables, walls, floor - everything is covered.

Walking through after classes, the ginormous push has all come to quiet and order. Things have been displayed, put away or tossed.

The sun shines. A soft bound book, the lone object on a long wooden table, catches my eye. Moving closer, it's a literary magazine with the words “Qui Parle?” written across the cover.
“Who Speaks”?

1. Where does this question send you?

Teaching communication in an MBA program the question was so on point.

My graduate students and I had just spent a dynamic semester developing the play of their communicative/leadership/creative identities in the lived world. We are who, and what, we are able to voice. And what we don’t, won’t or cannot yet say.

An intention for class is trading knee-jerk communication habits for ones serving identified priorities.

2. What communication habits would you love to delete?

A driving ethos for the course is linking mental health and relational well-being to our daily conversational repertoires. And, given business is a contact sport, practicing backwards design by observing the resonance or aftereffect of everyday communications.

3. What mood do you leave others in? 

II. A sensibility of HUMOR

I love what I do. In designing this communication course, a question insisted itself.
I wondered:

4. What shall we call the one engaged in sense making
as they speak, listen, lead or collaborate?

I’d been wanting to name the persona apprenticing to their own communicative life. Willing to become a participant/shaper of communication. Willing to wear the shoes of a choreographer, crafting strategic and relational communication.

Willing to design pockets of equanimity - safe spaces to reflect together, then test new communication practices in the real world, along with peers engaged in same.

Willing to check if their sense of humor hat is on (never needs to be on straight).

The night before I ever taught this course I saw Jerry Seinfeld interviewed. He told how before going onstage to do standup, he prayed to The Gods of Comedy. It sounded right.

So meeting my students in a few days, I will share how The Gods of Comedy and The Gods of Communication are in cahoots.


communicant |kəˈmyoōnikənt|
1. archaic a person who imparts information. 
2. 21st century a persona apprenticed to their communicative life.
ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Latin communicant- ‘sharing,’
from the verb communicare.

I told a friend from Argentina a joke. It brought no smile. What we find funny is personal.

So too with words. Words emanate from us. They work best when specifically our own. Meaningful challenges are like that too - we're more likely to execute on matters mattering to us.

Housed in a design strategy program, my course takes a close look at the communication eco-systems we inhabit and share.

Students' test out class concepts in daily professional and personal life - nothing fancy. They will set communication challenges for themselves within the difficult, pivotal and creative conversations happening at work, home and play. It's all about learning-by-doing.

As Design Strategists, my students will facilitate transformation in the face of wicked challenges. They are building a narrative toolkit for change making, advocating, collaborating and leading. For stepping up and stepping back.

It will require agility standing ground, despite push back, while having the moxie
to create rapport. It will require building peer-to-peer connection in non B.S. ways and rapidly.

From speaking up to listening, from asking hidden questions, to declaring what is not working, from facilitating conflict, to giving and receiving feedback – our work together holds self-leadership as the precursor to organizational leadership.  

Simply put, an intention for the course is to steward everyday conversations. Including that pesky/tender one with yourself.

The word “Communicant” arose as a descriptor for this conversant being. Sharing it with a student they were less than thrilled. “It has the word “can’t” in it”, they said.

They were right. Even so. Though I don't say it much out loud, it stuck around.

5. Where in your communicative life are you testing yourself?
IV. Humans

A study of what leaders and managers seek in new hires revealed human capital - people skills - to be a priority. Yet research shows these are areas young entrepreneurs and perspective MBA students are least interested in.

It confirmed what many MBA students tell me the first day of class. A communication course on interpersonal dynamics made them more nervousthan finance, managerial accounting or market insights classes. They are onto something, given public speaking is our number one fear.

6. How can the term "public speaking" be updated?

Nowadays there's appreciation of what a community of people can build.It’s also easy to see, in these new times, how anxiety narratives permeate.

Design thinking is such an overused term. And yet.

It relies on strategic stories of possibility deep div complex problems. Its’ generative narratives make well-being operational and positive change real.

Without having met them, I appreciate my students' back stories. I respect them for getting to class in hybrid times.‍

Can’t wait be in the same studio again, rolling up our sleeves. Beginning.

Love to hear what you think!
I've posed couple questions in blog.

Curious and truly interested to hear how you answered.

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