Case One Response (COMM 564 Ebo)

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Picture this scenario: You’re just returning from your lunch break when your boss walks up to you and tells you to pack your belongings. You’re fired. You stammer for an explanation. Did you mishandle an important project? Were you accused of embezzling company funds?

No. It’s because you’re fat.

Of course, immediately, I need to know some more clarifying information.

How do I know that I am being fired for what I’ll call obesity? What in my job requires that I must be of ‘normal’ weight? What is normal weight? Are we using a formula? Am I a dancer? Am I a model? Am I an athlete who needs to be in top physical shape to stay focused? Am I a trash person, who must be able to hang on to the back of a truck without fear of a quick turn? Is it part of a contract? Has anything actually been said to indicate that obesity was in fact the reason? The company is held, generally speaking, to a standard that prevents discrimination according to weight, which in this case might be coded as a disability.
I don’t think the case would stand very long in court or even be considered unless there is some factor which is not revealed in the case study, such as one of the scenarios I mentioned above, e.g. dancing, modeling, or some other work activity that requires the worker’s body to be of a certain fitness in order to do the work well. In this case, special care would have to be taken in the work agreement to measure what an ideal body was proportionally, in weight, and in tone, so that an objective analysis of the worker’s body could be shown to be outside of the margins of allowance. Otherwise, the scenario is akin to prejudice, in that bodily fitness has no impact of knowledge work, but may indeed be seen as having an impact on kinetic work.

I’d also add that I do not see it as very fair nor reasonable, even given a contract, that there not be an opportunity to make things right in the eyes of the contract. How many pounds out of the allowance are we? 20 pounds? 10? 10 pounds could be reasonably lost with a fitness and caloric regimen in 5 to 10 weeks. Can the work be held for that long? Is there some other task that the obese employee could do in the meantime?

John LeMasney

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Video: “Plane crashed a few blocks from my house. I filmed it.” – Boing Boing

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In our classroom talks about producer/consumer relationships, top down/bottom up media, and unedited releases, there are lots of issues with that lack of editing. For example, here, on one of my favorite blogs, boingboing, there is was a video posted of the Buffalo plane crash to YouTube. There is something to be said for the timestamp of the upload, which is approximately the same time that the major networks broke the news, which brings into question the power of the networks to report any faster than, well, you. However, the other thing that rises very quickly to the forefront is whether an editor (a traditional editor who is afraid of lawsuits, loss of readership, etc.) would post the same video. There are some critiques of this blog for doing just that in the discussion after the video, which is no longer available, because youtube removed it.

Isn’t boingboing supposed to the directory of wonderful things? What’s so wonderful about posting videos of plane crashes? And I’m not even going into the ethics/motivation of doing this either. After all, there is nothing to be learned/understood by watching or posting this video. Just some shaky footage.

via Video: “Plane crashed a few blocks from my house. I filmed it.” – Boing Boing.

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Journal Entry: New Directions Chapter 9


Chapter 9 in New Directions talks about the idea of mediation in the ‘workplace’, where the manager acts as the 3rd party, and the issues that this change brings.

In the chapter, a model is dissected in which 5 elements are considered for the analysis and application of managerial 3rd party mediation. The dispute scenario (nature, relationships, 3rd party experience & preferences), effectiveness criteria (intent assessment tools like efficiency, effectiveness, participant satisfaction, and fairness), third party role ( the approaches of the manager as mediator: autocrat, arbitrator, mediator, motivator, restructurer), outcomes (the result of the mediation: resolution/impasse, nature of agreement, disputant perceptions), and the organizational context (the state of the organization and the way it affects the conflict: history, culture).

Karambayya, R., & Brett, J. M. (1994). Managerial Third Parties. In J. P. Folger & T. S. Jones (Eds.), New Directions in Mediation: Communication Research and Perspectives (pp. 175-192). Sage Publications, Inc.

Personal Experiential Application:

Dr. Millen asks “Therefore, let’s begin the discussion tomorrow night by considering new metaphors, terms, or general frames that are designed to embrace and foster this transformative view of conflict and its resolution.”

I’ll participate as usual tonight, but I was very intrigued by this metaphor replacement, and had some thoughts I figured I’d share as my chapter journal entry. I feel like training implies that we have to apply mediation as though it were a single key that fits a single lock, and without that training that mediation has no chance to succeed.

I’m finding now, especially after reading chapter 9 on managerial third parties, that many of the aspects of transformative mediation can still exist and be useful and successful even though many of the rules (confidentiality, impartiality, neutral third party, professional emotional distance, etc.) may or may not be present.

I think one really useful metaphor for transformative mediation is ocean surf swimming, in which the mediator acts as a sort of lifeguard. Disputants get in to the turbulent water, go as deep as they feel comfortable with, go in any direction they like, progress at their own pace. There might be sharp shells in the sand underfoot, the waves might be a little bit too active, and there are jellyfish, but anything’s better than sitting out on the blazing sand. It hurts! The lifeguard might have swimming advice, might blow a whistle if things start to become dangerous, calling swimmers to come back in to a safer place. Not everyone knows how to swim in the same way – some people learn naturally, some take classes, and some go on to be Olympic surf swimmers. Some people are deathly afraid of water, and some people don’t mind pools, but are afraid of surf. How would training work with them?

Meanwhile, the activity of swimming can be a competition, but in this case, it’s just exercise, a way to feel better, it’s self-directed, and it only goes until the swimmer is satisfied. Unless the lifeguard suggests otherwise.

Journal Entry: New Directions Chapter 7


This chapter was about the challenges of cultural diversity and ways in which in can influence the models chosen for mediation. Of particular importance in this chapter was the explanation of Hofstede’s Model of Cultural Differences, a set of continua that define one’s likely response to a given conflict and its handling (Folger & Jones, 1994, pp. 146-149). The continua include high vs. low Power Distance (one’s relative level of influential power), high vs. low uncertainty avoidance (ability to be comfortable in unstructured dialog), Individualism vs. collectivism (one’s willingness to break with norms in order to fulfill self’s needs), Masculinity vs. Femininity (one’s tendency to be more aggressive or more nurturing) (Folger & Jones, 1994, pp. 146-149).

Following this was an explanation of four models of mediation, and their best uses according to Hofstede’s model. There is Mediator controlled, in which mediators can call upon arbitration if a deadlock occurs (Folger & Jones, p. 149, 1994). Interventionist in which the mediator acts in the best interests of absent parties, such as children in divorce mediation (Folger & Jones, 1994, p. 151 ). Disputant Control, in which mediators act as simple maintainers and keepers of the process of disputants developing and owning their own solutions (Folger & Jones, 1994, p. 153). Then there is Relational Development, in which mediators work to establish commonality between parties before doing any sort of work on the issues themselves, in preparation for a more reasonable interaction in later mediation sessions (Folger & Jones, 1994, pp. 153-154).

I think one of the most interesting things about this chapter was the way in which it explained how cultural realities affect the way conflict might be handled in mediation, and specifically which mediation models might be most successful if you can effectively establish a sense of disputant cultures.

Donohue, W. A., & Bresnahan, M. I. (1994). Communication Issues in Mediating Cultural Conflict. In J. P. Folger & T. S. Jones (Eds.), New Directions in Mediation: Communication Research and Perspectives (pp. 135-158). Sage Publications, Inc.

Personal Experiential Application:

One interesting aspect of this chapter was specific information about how certain cultures are likely to deal with conflict. It gave me some clear insight into some specific conflict mediation situations I had encountered in the past that were culturally sensitive, but I wasn’t aware of the issues, and so I failed at mediating the situation.

I had a student worker, we’ll call her Susan, who was part of an international exchange program at the University, and who was a great student worker, always doing the tasks asked of her, always very quietly. As it turns out this quiet handling of tasks is a cultural sign of respect in this case, according to the Folger and Jones text, as she was Chinese.

It was this quietude that I encountered when I sat her down and asked very directly why a certain important delivery task hadn’t been done. She was caught in a lie, and there was clear evidence that the task, which had taken me and my staff a lot of time to set up, and then apparently was simply thrown out rather than delivered. We were surprised when we offered the ability to continue in the job if she could simply explain why the task hadn’t been done. She sat quietly, blinked at me, and said nothing. I asked several times if she could just tell me where the packages were so that we might be able to salvage them, and again got no response.

It turns out that my direct supervisory role and my actions in trying to resolve the problem, e.g., going directly to her and asking (accusing really) what had happened was in direct opposition to her social realities, which procluded speaking back to further conflict, bring issues out in the open in a direct way, and talking directly with the supervisor about an issue without an intermediary.

From Hofstede’s model, she was high power distance, high uncertainty avoidance, high collectivism, high femininity – given this, I might have taken a much more soft approach than the one that I did, but I wasn’t paying attention.