For this posting about my reflections on this course, I’ll use a car as the metaphor for my communications skills and expertise. My entire professional career as a public relations practitioner, I’ve driven this car wherever I needed to go, with only a smidgeon of understanding about the theoretical “mechanics” of what actually makes it run. This course has been analogous to sticking my head under the hood and tinkering with the engine to gain that understanding.
A principle of public relations is that perception must change before behavior can. This is the case regardless of whether the desired behavior is voting for a candidate, buying a product, showing up at an event, or countless other actions. Communications theory helps explain the relationship between perception and behavior, and how the two influence each other. Before this course, I had mostly anecdotal understanding about this process based on my own professional experience in a variety of contexts and applications. The course provided a theoretical foundation for my understanding that simply didn’t exist before. (But don’t tell my clients that.)
For example, I know from experience that people sometimes act in ways that don’t necessarily serve their own best interests. A voter may support a candidate who espouses economic policy that is potentially damaging to that voter. Actually, this is a pretty common dynamic in public relations. But I did not know why it happens, from a psychological standpoint. Reading about the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 95) was a revelation because I learned about the factors that give rise to this phenomenon and possible strategies for addressing it.
Of course, learning also occurred through interaction with my classmates. This was especially the case in the last two weeks when we were working on our final projects. There were a wide variety of ideas and interesting approaches on display. Neely employed a thoroughly researched and professional looking presentation, organized in way that made even the most complex principles understandable even to someone with no background in our course material. Melissa chose a film about an extremely timely and relevant issue, cyber-bullying, as a way to illustrate her understanding and application of the subject matter. Tatiana’s video narrative personalized her presentation in way that made it fun to watch and engaging. And Melinda used outstanding graphics to render her points and make them easy to understand and follow. Overall, I learned something from every presentation I watched, which is probably the highest compliment there is.