Syllabus for 94AV (Freshman Seminar): Communicating Up Close. Fall, 2006

Wednesdays, 1-1:50pm, North Hall 2119

94AV, Fall 2006: Scheff:

2814 Ellsn. Hall; 893 3510 (


Communicating Up Close: Practical Issues

Everyday communication: Can we understand our own communication habits and those of others? One way that might help is to take a look at our own behavior in remembered dialogue. For example, can an invitation be framed in a way that is clear, but decreases the risk of rejection? How can one manage disagreement in a way that may lead to resolution or compromise rather than hurt feelings? To open discussion, volunteers will role-play situations from their own experience. These discussions will be used to introduce social psychological concepts. However, the first goal is practical: improving your own communication skills.(Email me as soon as possible, but no later than the 5th week if you feel you are not being helped by the class, or if you are unsure).

Example of dialogue from an earlier class:

1. Context/relationship: Cathy and John have belonged to a group of friends for a year.

     2. Cathy: "I was just calling to see if you wanted to go out sometime."

     3 John:  "You mean like on a DATE?"

     4 Cathy: "Yea, like on a date! What'd you THINK I was talking about?"

5. Outcome: Did this exchange improve, maintain, or hurt the relationship? (Just guess, if necessary).

To start the ball rolling, we will role-play this dialogue, and also invent some alternatives to lines 2, 3 and/or 4.

There is only one weekly assignment: A dialogue that really happened to you. Five (or four) LINES like those above for your own new dialogue that you turn in every week: 1. email it to me by noon  Monday before each class (, and 2.  bring 3 hard copies to class on Wed. You can have only two lines of exchange if you wish, adding up to 4 lines: Context, exchange, outcome. (not 4 or 5 sentences, just 4 or 5 LINES)


These are the kinds of situations that students in earlier classes have wanted to discuss:

Avoiding a quarrel (for example: about being late, controlling the television remote, or how to drive a car.)
Getting out of a quarrel
Dealing with a roommate
Authority figures: parent, teacher, boss
Being treated as an independent adult rather than as a dependent child

Managing feelings involved in speaking in class or in public
Offering or receiving an invitation (romantic or not)
Romantic etiquette: invitations, kissing, petting, sexual intercourse, telling, etc.

Questioning or being questioned about commitment (in a relationship)
Love or infatuation?

Being taken for granted
Breaking up, including emotional aftermath
Offering or receiving an apology

This class will use the discussion method, with no lectures.

  1. Everything that you see and hear in this class about other students is to be considered confidential. Don’t gossip to others who are not in this class.
  2. Please be considerate of the students who are role-playing. You may ask questions or make comments, but no criticism or advice.
  3. The door will be closed at the bell, If you are late, leave your dialogue under the door. No late admittance.

To get credit, you need to email and turn in a  dialogue on-time each week. On the last day of class, you must also submit a final short paper (no more than two pages), involving a comparison of at least two your own dialogues.

Some TOPICS that might or might not come up in class:

1. The discovery method of learning: “when you tell people something, you keep them from ever knowing it…” Also the “ricochet” effect: its much easier to learn from other’s mistakes, because you have grown accustomed to your own.

2. Basic concepts

3. “Leveling”: being direct but respectful

4. “I” statements (vs.”you” and “it” statements)

5.  Pain of rejection as a universal problem

Authentic pride vs. embarrassment

6. Real vs. fake apologies

Optional reading

Goffman, Erving . 1959.   The art of impression management. Chapter 6 of Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor

Suzanne Retzinger. 1991.  Rosie and James: A marital quarrel. Chapter 4 of  Violent Emotions. New York: Sage

            Elias, Norbert. 1978.  What is Sociology? London: Hutchinson.

Metge, Joan. 1985. In and Out of Touch. (Maori culture and language) Wellington, AUS: Victoria University Press

Satir, Virginia. 1972. Peoplemaking. (Leveling) Palo Alto: Science and Behavior Press.

Scheff, Thomas. 2006. Lost and Found in Translation: 3 Films about Escaping from Alienation.(#52 on my homepage:

Tavuchis, Nicholas.1991. Mea Culpa: A Sociology of Apology and Reconciliation. Palo Alto: Stanford U. Press.                

At some point during the quarter, I will email you the intro chapter from my book on communicating. But I prefer you get into the swing of the class before seeing it.

791  sept 30  06  146f06