Classroom Talking Point: Too Cold for Persuasion?

Take one look at a weather map and you know winter is at its harshest in much of the country. If you are like me and live in the upper Midwest, phrases such as “polar vortex” have become part of your vernacular, and you spend much of your day putting on layers of clothing in a sad, futile attempt to make the -40 temperatures seem not so bad. In the spirit of all things winter, this week’s blog offers a classroom talking point on one university’s message regarding its decision to hold classes on a day when the high temperature was 15 degrees below zero (30 to 40 below with the windchill).

The message was posted on the university’s “Announcements” blog and linked to on the university’s Facebook page. While some took the message in stride, others (judging by their comments) did not appear persuaded that keeping the school open was a good decision. The text of the message appears below.

My thought is that this message would make a great talking point for a class discussion on persuasive writing.

  • What rhetorical devices does the writer use to justify the university’s decision to hold classes?
  • Are they effective in persuading the reader that the decision was a good one?
  • What, if anything, could the writer do to improve this message?
  • Does the writer follow what we discuss in class regarding the organization of a persuasive message: gaining attention, building the case, minimizing any possible flaws in the argument, and ending with an action item?
  • Some readers appeared so angry about the decision to remain open that they may not have been able to objectively consider the writer’s reasoning. How might business writers account for readers’ emotional reactions to persuasive messages?


The Message

SUBJECT: Classes to be held as scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 28

The university is open and classes will be held as scheduled on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

There have been a number of inquiries about why the university is open and holding classes as scheduled despite sub-zero temperatures.

The university rarely, if ever closes. A number of criteria are considered when deciding whether to hold classes, delay the start of classes, or cancel select classes.

Those criteria include, but are not limited to, excessive snowfall and/or drifting, icy conditions, temperature, wind chill, visibility and condition of sidewalks and roadways both on campus and in the community. The university makes the decision based on actual real-time weather conditions, not what the forecast is predicting the day before.

Naturally, one of the most important considerations is safety of students, faculty and staff. If the conditions are deemed obviously unsafe for travel to and from the university, and to and from facilities on campus, classes are canceled or delayed. This can be a subjective judgment—but it is based on the best information available at the time the decision is made.

The university recognizes that some individuals have specific medical or physical conditions that prevent them from being able to venture out into the cold, or may have a lengthy commute to campus that may not be safe to undertake because of weather conditions where they live. That is why students, faculty and staff are instructed to exercise their best judgment in deciding whether to attend classes or report for work.

A Classroom Talking Point: Profanity in the Workplace

Occasionally, a student drops an f-bomb or other expletive. Many times, the student follows with, “Oops. Sorry. It slipped” or some sort of defense. Many other times, however, students do not realize what they have said until I bring it to their attention. Regardless, I usually follow with a suggestion that the student be more conscious of language and its effect on his or her professional image. These individual exchanges are the extent of the discussion.

Last week, though, I happened upon a blog post by Anne Kreamer in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network entitled “Why You Really Shouldn’t Curse at Work (Much).” Her post has led me to consider how I might incorporate a  discussion on the topic of profanity and professionalism into my courses.

Kreamer notes what BComm teachers already know:

Taboo words, with a couple of true taboo exceptions, have always been used sparingly to communicate powerful emotions, but when swearing becomes simply reflexive and ubiquitous—as it is today—those words cease to have much power or meaning. And when crude words do shock, the language deflects our focus from the serious issues at hand.

Kreamer explains that in business, some people may see profanity as a social or professional strategy—to fit in with a group, to establish their authority or dominance, or (especially for women) to show they are “one of the guys.” She also highlights how factors such as gender, race, ethnicity, education, status, context, intent, or speaker drive perceptions of the acceptability of the use of profanity. In addition, she enhances the discussion with many links to interesting contemporary articles and research on the topic, and many of the readers’ comments are interesting and insightful.

Business communication teachers could use Kreamer’s post and its links to ask students (many of whom have not had that first “real” job but who do have some work experience) about their perceptions of profanity in the workplace.

  • What do they think makes the use of profanity acceptable or unacceptable in the workplace? Is profanity ever acceptable in the workplace?
  • What are their perceptions of  the various people in their world (e.g., a man, a woman, a boss, a coworker, a popular entertainer, a politician) who use profanity? Why do students think they have these perceptions? That is, why might they perceive their coworkers’ use of profanity as acceptable but their boss’s use as tacky or unprofessional?
  • How might students be more aware of their own use of profanity and decrease their use of it?

As part of that discussion, instructors could challenge students’ assumptions or discuss them more fully using the articles that Kreamer links to.

Do you discuss workplace profanity in your classroom? If so, tell us how. We would like to hear your strategies.