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I’m currently taking MBA courses, which are ostensibly not a waste of my time. However, this past week I attended the first of five sessions on the subject of business communication and I think I left a little dumber than when I arrived.

Communication is usually an interesting subject for me because it’s one of the few business courses that involves psychology, which is more interesting than say…accounting. I feel the same way about marketing classes because it is interesting to try to get into the mind of your target audience and predict to what they will respond. (It’s also interesting to observe some of the stuff they actually respond to, but I digress.)

This communication class started with the instructor administering a test that claimed to guage our communication styles. So, on our first day of class we were all categorized. The different styles were Noble, Socratic, Reflective, Magistrate, Candidate, & Senator (they’re not even parallel – some of them are adjectives and others are nouns. Again, I digress). So, on my first day of class, after a five minute test, I was labeled a Magistrate. Here’s a little of the description:

The Magistrate is:

– Direct and straightforward, but also analytical and verbose
– Tactful, but honest
– Avoids absolute and categorical statements
– Is concerned with the bottom line, but also with details
– Has an affinity for words, but also uses nonverbal gestures

Oh my god – that is so me! I felt like I was reading a horoscope.

Then I read a little about the Reflective, which supposedly has nothing in common with the Magistrate. The Magistrate has traits of both the Noble and the Socratic, but not the Reflective.

The Reflective:

– Cares about human feelings
– Believes that communication should be polite and conflict-free
– Uses verbal and nonverbal reinforcers
– Avoids absolute statements
– Tends to be a patient listener

Oh my god – that is also so me!

Next we had to divide into groups to complete exercises that involved buying into the fact that you WERE a certain type. I connected to my “type” in the same way I connect to being a Taurus (which hindered my performance in the group). I kept thinking – are they serious? There are an INFINITE number of ways to categorize people – horoscopes, Meyers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and this brilliant test being only a handful of examples.

Here’s an absolute and categorical statement from this Magistrate:

The study of human behavior is interesting, but the assignment of labels is too arbitrary and simplistic.

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21 Comments

  1. "You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self-controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker; and do not accept others' statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic."

  2. It's too bad they didn't actually use any meaningful variables. Learning some real (as in, empirically verified) dimensions of personality variance would help you manage and communicate far better than these fanciful concoctions. Pseudoscientific "insight" is worth even less than anecdote, and only serves to sow more confusion in a field already choked with weeds.

    This reminds me of the scene from Donnie Darko in which the clueless drone of a teacher is spreading her absurd dichotomy of "love" and "fear," and grading her students on their ability to tolerate such a vacuous exercise.

    In a word: Blah.

  3. I agree with Psmathos, there's personality categories out there that at least have some meaningful application, and are actually based on real differences (like introvert vs. extrovert, etc…).

    So why would he resort to some inane 3-minute internet quiz? I'd say this truly is an indication of the general usefullness of what you'll see in this class. It may be interesting subject matter, but the person teaching it hasn't got a clue, so you'll learn nothing.

    Here's an idea: show your communication skills by telling him he's an ignorant fool. But make sure he doesn't know your name, or he might flunk you for having seen right through his act.

  4. Hilarious post (: My favorite part: "Oh my god – that is so me! I felt like I was reading a horoscope."

    These tests are silly (: I hope the rest of the course has a little more meat to it.

  5. My boss (our CEO!) has an MBA. From Harvard, no less.

    None of you know my boss, but just trust me when I say that this is a damning indictment of the utter worthlessness of MBAs. Me and the ex-coworker (I, too, am soon to be ex-employed by this idiot) used to joke that he bought his degree. But if this is what MBA courses are like, then I'm not so sure any more.

  6. I like the avoidance of absolute statements. I would probably tend towards the reflexive with majistrate tendencies.

    In my view, the mark of a scientist, is typically an avoidance of absolute statements.

    The mark of the non-scientist type is to fear the lack of a absolutes. (One can see the religious rights in the US arguing that politicians that don't think (completely predictable on a given issue) are better than the so called flip-floppers. Actually the act of thinking on each measure and viewing all the consequences might be the better leader? Anne Coulture goes on and on and on, about how we would all be sociapaths without some kind of absolute morality. Her reading is that one has no values if they have no absolute morality which is far from the case.)

  7. Interesting concept about the "flip-floppers".

    I think the problem is though, that when you vote for someone from a certain political range (republican, democrat, libertarian, etc…), you have a general idea of what that person's stance is likely to be on most issues. Iin fact, they'll often make that stance quite clear when campaigning.

    So flip-floppers don't seem like the kind of people you can trust to do what they promised once elected. They might change their mind on any of the issues you care about (for whatever reason), and betray the trust you placed in them when you voted for them by doing something you didn't agree to.

    In essence, democracy is a system whereby you're giving your right to decide to someone else. This person represents you.

    As such, it's better to put your trust in someone who won't change his opinion half way through his mandate.

  8. MBA – yes, I've got one of those as well. Two comments:

    1. M.B.A = Mediocre But Arrogant;

    2. When I did mine, I asked the Prof why there were no courses in statistics, or economics or philosophy; why the degree was filled with pap about 'operating styles' and 'team working' and 'globalisation'. The answer: "We used to have courses in mathematics and economics. We had to drop those, in line with all the other schools in the UK, because the students found them to be too hard."

    I submitted a thesis which was the most dreary, uninformative, opinionated, unhelpful and ignorant twaddle. It still got an 'A' because I know how to write and how to spell.

    The rule about post-graduate qualifications is this: qualifications which give you letters before your name are worth having. Those which give you letters after your name are not. So 'Prof', 'Dr', 'Sir/Lady', God help us 'Lieutenant' or even 'Rev' make a difference. The only letters that matter after your name say 'ACA' (accountant), 'solicitor/barrister' (lawyer), 'MP' (representative/senator), 'JP' (magistrate [volunteer judge]).

    Advice? Don't bother with it. You'll get on much better in your career by being an office politician, brown-nosing and toadying to the various bosses than you will by being a 'good girl' and getting lots of qualifications.

  9. Arguably, P.E. (Professional Engineer) is also helpful. In the US, at least, those letters grant the bearer a legal authority somewhat higher than a simple B.S. (for example) would; you can sign documents and serve as an expert witness in a court of law, among other things.

    I don't have a P.E. after my name, though, so it's not clear how much difference that actually makes in job terms. Wikipedia says it's most important for civil engineers, and I can definitely see how that might be the case.

  10. The best MBA level advice on that kind of pop psych categorization is to treat it for what it is and avoid it. Corporations waste millions of dollars on this stuff, bringing in consultants spouting logically inconsistent mumbo jumbo. The people serious about the company, whether their goal is getting rich, doing good or just having a good time, avoid this kind of garbage like the plague. Instead, they pay attention to ACCOUNTING. Unlike pop psych, accounting is mysterious, magical and metaphysical, but it can give you amazing insights into the nature of an enterprise. (Talk to a good accountant, not an economist, and you'll see).

    When Gerstner took over IBM in the early 90s, he said one really smart thing, "The last thing that IBM needs is a vision." I was so impressed that I bought a pile of IBM stock and made out like a bandit. The last thing they needed was a vision. They needed to figure out where the money was and how to put themselves there. The money was in systems integration and services, so they moved away from hardware and they are STILL making good money. (I've sold my stock from the early 90s, but now and then when people start saying that IBM is doomed, I check and make sure that they haven't gotten a corporate vision, and pick up a few bucks going long for the rebound).

    I only had to deal with some of this corporate pysch garbage. I was rarely high enough in the ranks to have to deal with it. My girlfriend, however, was moving up the ladder, so she had to deal with it in spades. She'd call them on it. She'd ask the obvious questions: Are those categories exclusive or overlapping? Isn't that an internal contradiction? Is that the only interpretation of that action or opinion? A lot of folks would bitch, but she'd stand firm. She was being paid to use her brain, so she wasn't going to shut it off for one of those exercises in ambiguity.

    Please, please, please, exercise some skepticism here. You are ostensibly a skepchick. I'm not saying that psychology has nothing whatever to offer, but there is junk psychology and just as with junk accounting, and it pays to learn to recognize it.

  11. I found a cute review of McCallister's Book, "I Wish I'd Said That!": How to Talk Your Way Out of Trouble and Into Success, on Amazon:

    —-

    An interesting book…, May 18, 1997

    Reviewer: A reader

    The ultimate rewards of reading McCallister's book will probably range depending on the position one is in. Those who interact in a more executive setting will likely find the numerous scenarios and clear, straightforward advice more poignant and malleable. However, the personality models (which are as amusing as they are insightful) and communication techniques can be internalized by just about anyone in any number of situations (even, as McCallister points out, in one's marriage). Perhaps the biggest strength of this book is that it avoids the (very annoying) mantra that 'communication is about liking yourself and being positive'. McCallister, a professional, knows how bent and ultimately manipulative many interpersonal relationships are, and as such the advice one gets here is real and hands on practical stuff. Its only major weakness is that the personality models McCallister uses (six in all) are pretty static, despite some attempt to keep them fluid (usually via a superficial reminder that 'life is more dynamic than this'). Still, a very good book. Useful and funny. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats….

    —–

    Maybe I was being too harsh? I mean, it WAS better than Cats!

  12. The thing I always think of when it comes to executive shenanigans is the 80s business obsession with Sun Tzu's The Art of War. All the cover blurbs for the book talk about how it was a big deal in business. It's all bullshit, of course. I mean, yeah, there are a few decent pieces of general insight, but most of it is hardly extensible beyond bronze age Chinese warfare.

    For instance: "Movement among the trees of a forest shows that the enemy is advancing. If a scout sees that the trees of a forest are moving shaking, he may know that they are being cut down to clear a passage for the enemy's march. The appearance of a number of screens in the midst of thick grass means that the enemy wants to make us suspicious."

    Yeah, real applicable to business. ;)

    Same, to an extent, goes for The Prince. That one, at least, is slightly closer, as Italy in the time Macchiaveli was writing revolved around business. But, still, come on. Taking these books and trying to shoehorn them into the business world is simply absurd.

  13. "Please, please, please, exercise some skepticism here. "

    Kaleberg,

    Based on what you wrote, I'm not sure if you actually read my post or not.

    The essence of my post IS skepticism toward this particular labeling system, as evidenced by:

    – The fact that I felt dumber when I left than when I arrived

    – The fact that I pointed out that I was assigned one type, yet the description of the supposed opposite "type" also completely applied to me

    – The fact that I compared the descriptions of the types to horoscopes

    – The fact that I said the assignment of labels is too arbitrary and simplistic

    And regarding accounting, I can joke about that because I'm the Controller of a large resort. It's what I do for a living. All the feedback I get about my job is that they think it must be boring (it's not), so I try to laugh at myself whenever possible.

    Just wanted to clear that up because it sounds like you either didn't read or completely missed the gist of my post.

  14. Maybe your instructor meant to make you 'consider' your communication style.

    Your clearly a smart chick ( having listened to your contribution to the SCTU podcast some might say smart mouthed) as well as a skepchick. I would suggest not all of your fellow MBA students are quite as smart. My experience of post graduate business courses is that many students are just corporate drones happy to swallow the company line if it gets them up the ladder. Skeptics need not apply, would guests please check their critical thinking skills at the door..

  15. Maw – I totally agree with your assessment that most business students are less concerned with thinking than with making money.

    At the same time, you can't pigeonhole people based on their career choice. Skeptics and Non-skeptics come from all walks of life. Some of the best skeptics aren't scientists (e.g. James Randi) and some very educated scientists aren't skeptics (e.g. Michael Behe).

    I just want to clear up one thing – I am not Rebecca. :)

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