What actually happened in the USA last night – and what do we call it?

It’s been quite a day/night, and indeed, quite a year in the USA. People have had to decide how to characterize widespread unrest. Are these events demonstrations? uprisingsrebellionsinsurrectionriots? Were the people who came out for Black Lives Matter (BLM) last summer, or those who stormed the Capitol yesterday, protesters or a mob? Each term sends a very different message about what is going on in the streets.

During a speech in the Rose Garden on June 1, President Trump used the word riot five times. It is a loaded word. In general, riot connotes meaningless violence by people who have lost touch with reason. In the U.S., it also has a racial dimension. In the 1960s, it was weaponized by whites to conjure up the image of Black people creating senseless chaos in cities. The word helped to hide the political dimension of what was going on, including the socioeconomic disparities that preceded the upheaval.

Compared to riot, words like uprising, insurrection or rebellion suggest a struggle for justice, a warranted (or justified) response to oppression, with a demand for systemic change. 

Trump referred to the mostly peaceful BLM protesters by suggesting that America was in the grips of an “angry mob.” He called the people in the streets “looters, criminals, rioters” who were committing “acts of domestic terror”. He vowed to bring “law and order.” 

Law and order” is coded in its own way. Actions that the police might take – even firing rubber bullets into a crowd – are often cast as “imposing order”. The logic is that rioting is always disorder, and so whatever is done in response to it must be the opposite. 

And then there is inciting violent insurrection: causing people to riot. Even before the election, Trump and his enablers had begun delegitimizing the election in the eyes of his supporters. Some in the media say Trump has been attempting to stage a coup. On 6 January, Trump told his supporters, “You are the real people” and “Your voices are not going to be silenced, we won’t let that happen”, and told them that “we” would walk the mile to the Capitol. They then took off – but Trump let them go on their own. That mob was “wholly owned” by Trump, in both senses of the word: To own something means to have it in your belongings. And to be owned is to be made a fool of.

In the riot on 6 January, Senator Mitch McConnell and the other Senators and Representatives and their staff were chased out of the Capitol. On their return, McConnell said he would not bow to “thugs” and the “unhinged” crowd. He referred to what had happened as a “failed insurrection“. What he didn’t want to admit in his speech was that these people, whom he didn’t want to call “protesters”, included his own voters. Mitt Romney – the only Republican Senator who voted in favor of charging Trump with abuse of power in the impeachment – was more specific: He called the Capitol mob “an insurrection incited by the President of the United States.”

Trump’s right-wing enablers may continue to defend this as a (legitimate) protest, but this is connected to overturning a legitimate election. President Trump invited these people, and he is the one who instigated the mob and the riot. Under normal circumstances, we might classify his actions as treason and consider the actors traitors. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is speaking of sedition, which is conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of the state. The Trump side is doubling down now.

Today Congress is discussing whether Trump should be declared unfit for office and removed from office – his cabinet would need to invoke the 25th Amendment for this – for the last 2 weeks of his term. If that does not happen, Nancy Pelosi has announced that Congress will impeach Trump again.

There was much speechifying – i.e. making weighty speeches – in the joint congressional session to accept the electors. But Congress continues to be very divided. Vice-President Pence has now been banned from the White House. Trump has been banned on Twitter and Facebook for the remainder of his term. And the riot, or protest, or insurrection, or coup, in the streets and at the White House? The attempt by the executive branch to control the legislative branch? It is anything but over.

Suggested level: B2

Vocabulary:

uprising – Volksaufstand
to rise against – sich erheben gegen
insurrection – Aufstand
Riot – Krawall
Protestors – Demonstranten
Upheaval – Aufruhr
rebellion – Rebellion
to rebel against – rebellieren gegen
angry mob – wütender Mob
act of domestic terror – Terrorakt im Inland
law and order – Recht und Ordnung
to impose order – Ordnung aufzwingen
disorder – Unordnung
to incite violence – Gewalt anzetteln

insurrection – Aufstand
failed/successful – gescheiterter/erfolgreicher
to stage a coup – einen Putsch inszenieren
unhinged – aus den Angeln gehoben
thugs – Schlägertypen
(legitimate) protest – (legitimer) Protest
treason – Verrat
traitor – Verräter

sedition – Volksverhetzung
declared unfit – für untauglich erklärt
speechify – gewandt reden

Global dexterity

Andy Molinsky: Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures without Losing Yourself in the Process. Harvard Business Review Press. 2013

So you want to be a true “citizen of the world”? You’ll need more than a knowledge of dos and don’ts in the many cultures you are moving into. There are large gaps between knowing what behavior is required of you in any given setting and situation, and being able to actually act accordingly. To sustain your role in that setting, you’ll need to be able to adapt your behavior to the context without losing your authenticity or becoming embittered by being required to adapt to imposed norms. The process can be unsettling.

To work with teams across cultures, and to lead people from other cultures, you need a key competence that Andy Molinsky calls “global dexterity”. He offers a self-coaching toolbox. At its core is his key message: Remain true to yourself. Take a holistic approach. Be successful in your own way.

The first step is to crack your own “cultural code” as well as that of your foreign environment. This means determining the prototypical behavioral and mindset considered appropriate in a given situation you must negotiate, and to compare that with how you would normally behave.

Molinsky offers the following behavioral categories:

  • how direct or indirect (degree of directness)
  • how enthusiastic or restrained (degree of enthusiasm)
  • how formal or informal (degree of formality)
  • how assertive or compliant (degree of assertiveness)
  • how self-promoting or modest (degree of self-promotion)
  • how self-revealing or private (degree of personal disclosure)

Consider the entire range of behaviors in the target culture that would be considered appropriate, defining a “zone of appropriateness”. Then consider whether any of your preferred ways of behaving would still fit within that zone.

Where this is not the case, the question inevitably arises whether you can stretch your comfort zone to overlap with the appropriateness zone of the other cultural code, to create a “new normal” for yourself in given situations. Before we look at Molinsky’s suggestions, consider the psychological challenges he identifies:

  • Can you maintain your authenticity when your personal values and convictions are in conflict with those underlying the behavior?
  • Do you have the know-how and the ability to actually execute the new behavior?
  • Do you have the strength to overcome any resentment and bitterness about having to conform?

Molinsky uses a coaching approach to help you explore this. After taking inventory and setting goals you are invited to test the new behavior gently in small experiments in a safe environment, asking familiars and mentors from the target culture for constructive feedback on your performance. Each experiment requires emotional and psychological reflection and inventory taking so that you try new behavior on for size only so far as you feel comfortable. Your aim is to integrate this behavior through new insights on a self-paced journey. So you build global dexterity much as you would develop a “muscle memory” through sports coaching. You build self-confidence as you experience your own increased efficacy.

Molinsky uses acting as a metaphor for the process. When you learn a new role, mastery does not mean that you lose other aspects of yourself. On the contrary, you are acquiring or realizing your potential, expanding your repertoire. As you learn and practice these new abilities you can look at them critically and say: “That’s not me… or not yet”.

The real challenge is making this new behavior acceptable to your old self. If you have decided that you do indeed want to try, the way is twofold: First, to seek to understand and appreciate the logic behind the behavior; secondly, to seek harmony in your shared goals. If your values remain at odds, Molinsky suggests engaging in intercultural bridge-building, i.e. attempting to integrate the logic of the foreign culture with your own to create a completely new culture.

Soft skills for natural scientists

In January 2017 I had the pleasure of conducting a 2-day workshop at the Max-Planck-Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart. We focused on

  • becoming a better listener
  • storytelling across disciplines
  • dealing with and resolving conflict
  • recognizing and improving how you work in teams

I’d like to present to you how we explored the last of these points.

  1. Team poster

In a first exercise, teams had 20 minutes to create a poster on a subject of their choice using a limited set of materials. The aim was to reflect on the roles each group member tended to take in groupwork, and how each contributed to both the process and the outcome. One interesting result was that a group consisting of members who had identified as similar MBTI types operated almost seemlessly to come up with a neatly engineered result. They didn’t begin actually creating their poster until half-way through the alotted time. Meanwhile, a second group of highly diverse types went through a lively, laughter-driven process, got hands-on almost immediately, and came up with a colorful patchwork showcasing individual contributions. Both groups were quite satisfied with their product, but the distinction between their approaches was food for thought:

  • Similar types may work together and achieve results with little friction, but they will not have the opportunity to gain an understanding for the thoughts and work processes of those unlike them.
  • Diverse types may experience a great deal of friction (to the point of experiencing the process as ‘a waste of time’), and the group will be slowed down by the attempt to include all participants, but they will, on reflection, acquire insights to enable improved collaboration on later projects. For research suggests that “It’s group conflict that actually makes a team function with more of the razor’s edge it needs to be innovative.”

2. Team meeting

In a second exercise, teams convened to hold a meeting to solve an important issue of their choice. Again the format was highly stylized, using Edward de Bono’s Six Hats approach in a precisely timed game format. At the end, the groups presented their solutions. Key lessons from the exercise were:

  • Using a strict format creatively limiting talking time heightens focus and improves results. It avoids members blocking each other competitively by trying to outdo each other.
  • A key to useful outcomes is  to allow thoughts to blossom first before finding weaknesses in them, and then to go on to seek solutions to those weaknesses, rather than shooting them down in the bud.

Such reflective exercises are great at inviting colleagues to discuss what they need and don’t need from each other, and allows them to grow as a team.

Though the team poster exercise made for better pictures (see below), the team meeting exercise won greater praise.

A warm thank you to the participants from the Max-Planck-Institute for Intelligent Systems for permitting me to show you these photos.

Lessons learned

First, a warm thank you to Wera Schmidt for thinking through my concept with me and suggesting the poster exercise. And a heartfelt thank you to my coaching colleague Wolf Wagner, who went through the feedback and assessed it for me. Overall, the feedback was quite positive. What participants liked most was the day 1 opportunity to practice listening and speaking skills. They were keen to explore conflict resolution in the simulations they were invited to act out. However, some found it quite difficult to imagine what the other side might argue in concrete terms, and in general would have prefered greater guidance in a smaller number of role plays.  This suggests to me that more focused and generative group coaching might be called for. Overall, a reprise in a similar soft skills workshop will include:

  1. fewer items
  2. a greater focus on issues specific to each participant’s work/life reality
  3. more time for guided reflection after each exercise
  4. a crystal-clear summary of the intended lesson to be learned.

A Prezi to teach Cialdini’s principles of persuasion

In teaching communication skills, I’ve decided to experiment with Prezi as my presentation tool. I normally use Powerpoint to present Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, but find that Prezi, which lets you zoom in and out, lets me put the task and reference material into one big picture. The template is one of the many very nice designs available. Prezi is free of charge if you don’t mind sharing your materials on line.

Better visuals for college presentations

Today I wrote an open letter to my Masters of Public Management students on how to improve their visuals. It included these points:

Better visuals:

To improve your design, especially your use of space on slides, select a theme that suits your purposes. Consider a clean color scheme with good contrast to suit the light conditions at the university. (I used a black gradient with white letters.) Then create a slide master, which stores information about the template (theme, a set of layouts, color scheme, fonts, placeholders for positioning). That creates harmonious slide variations on one theme, all saved in one master. When you make a new presentation, you build your slide deck by selecting from among the possible layouts, changing from slide to slide, and positioning your content in the given placeholders.

Use the graphic tools provided in your MS Office programs. Create visuals (graphic organizers, flowcharts…) using the tools in Powerpoint and Word called SmartArt. If you can’t find a chart that works for your purpose, tailor organizers using Diagrams and Tables. Save your own visuals and use them in your Prezis.

Use clipart provided by your program, if necessary, but reduce your use of clipart in your academic work. Replace those generic illustrations with authentic evidence (visualized calculations, documentation, photographs) to back up your assertions effectively.

If you need evocative photos for emotional impact or reference, use license-free photographs and document your sources to use them. I like eltpics, a searchable creative commons collection curated by English teachers around the world. https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/tags/

Better use of text

I know that “Presentation Zen” author Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte advocate reducing text on slides. That works well for natural science presentations, which are best when you show just the evidence, and for marketing, which runs on emotions. However, in our international context, with so much potential for verbal misunderstanding, and in our academic tradition of analytical thinking, you do need some text! Include all relevant names, titles of works and conceptual keywords on your slide. Formulate your key thesis as a full sentence. Label your charts legibly, with 16 point lettering. Use the spaces suggested by your template to formulate a header for orientation, keep bullets points short (max. 6-7 lines x 6 words), or – better – label the containers you have created in your template to contrast or compare selected terms.

Present any quotes in full length and include the name of the author.

Your presentations are unique, and your teachers and peers respect and enjoy that variety. Use the ideas of Dan and Chip Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007) to assess yourself:

Is what you present

simple – have you found the core of the idea?
unexpected – do you grab people’s attention?
concrete – can it be grasped and remembered?
credible – do you speak with authority on this subject, are your methods are sound?
emotional – do you share your sense of humanity with your audience?
stories – do you take your audience on an interesting journey?

Let’s Talk Business workshop

It was a good challenge to give a workshop on B1-C1 books to teachers whose mainstay are A1-2 learners. The teachers were great, and jumped into things.

It was very interesting to me to listen to the teachers talk about the unwillingness of their students to go along with activities, even to make the effort of getting up and walking around the room to change partners. I remember that well from my own classes at the VHS. I think the key is to introduce a certain culture in your classroom that feeds back to learners how they are actually making progress as a result of their increased efforts. We discussed writing reflections in class as a free writing activity, and I think that can be used very productively to get students to start thinking about what they are actually doing in class.

We did 4 activities that let them walk in their students’ shoes in terms of feeling what such activities are like. This is something I learned from Rolf Tynan at his dictogloss workshop for MELTA back in 2009. Jo Westcomb wrote it up in her great teacher’s column in Spotlight Online. His trick was to use a level of English in the dictogloss that was a bit challenging for us, too, and that was what I did yesterday, using a dialogue and playing it from a recording. I actually think we need to do that sort of thing more often, to better appreciate the effort our students are making, and to get a sense for what type of effort is actually worthwhile.

We discussed building memory as an integral part of language learning, and how to get learners to work harder by going from dictation to grammar dictation aka dictogloss, and going from role-play with a set of instructions to reading a description of a scenario, and relating that scenario to others in the first person without referring back to the text.

I recommended Nick Bilbrough’s wonderful resource book, Memory Activities for Language Learning, as well as Gillian Porter Ladousse’s classic Role Play Resource Book for Teachers.

Here’s the blurb for the event:

11 October 2014
Informationszentrum der Cornelsen Schulverlage, Friedrichstr. 149, 10117 Berlin
Let’s talk business – Building speaking and business skills from B1 to C1
These days even at lower language levels, our learners are expected to think on their feet and show skills in typical business situations. How can we get them a) to use the language of the workplace in the classroom setting, and as they progress, b) to think through how well they are communicating and where they can make improvements?
In part one of this Cornelsen Business English Day we’ll go through the approach taken and the role-plays and simulations developed in the Basis for Business series, which get learners to use the language they need at work in class. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of building on the units as input to create more personalized tasks, and present/practice numerous ways to personalize the material.
As learners progress to the higher language levels, they will be expected to handle more complex business situations. We will look at the language they need based on research into the real language of meetings, and explore communication frameworks recommended for difficult conversations. In part two of the Cornelsen Business English Day this will form the basis of simulations for C1 learners that will help them become more spontaneous in English. Trying these out in groups, we will look at each situation and the language that would be appropriate in it, and pool ideas on how to model the language and give related feedback.
Anne Hodgson, anne.hodgson@t-online.de