Thursday, July 14, 2016

Error 404: Focus Not Found

Sitting idle in that chair that’s comfortable in that sort of ‘office-comfortable, taupe is soothing’ kind of way, in a wash of overhead and computer fluorescence can certainly induce torpidity. It’s more than easy to slip into a “you need a comma here” type tutoring. So, how do we avoid this debilitating complacency during an online-session-heavy workday? Forcing yourself to be more deliberate with your explanations and questions can definitely help avoid falling into that sentence-level-editing rut, because it will also make you more self-aware of what you are doing in the session. Explain to your client how you read their paper, what you were looking for, and why you said what you said. If you don’t explain this, the client may have many still unanswered questions. If you can’t explain this, you don’t understand what you are doing yourself, and are obviously not fully engaged.

Personally, I find online sessions to be my most successful sessions, precisely for their allowance of close-reading and calculated comments. But this luxury requires a good deal of discipline to avoid abusing the added distance. One must keep in mind that the client cannot speak up during an online session if their goals are not being met, or if they do not understand a consultant’s suggestion. Therefore, though it’s certainly important in traditional consultations as well, it’s crucial to carefully consider the client’s preliminary requests and create a strategy for how to stay on track in meeting those expectations, keeping in mind that such vaguenesses as “grammar,” or “wording” may be indicative of concerns more fundamental than their denotation may suggest, such as clarity of ideas. In thinking of your strategy for meeting the client’s goals, be sure to actually read the paper in a way that will serve those goals. Will it need to be worked through line-by-line? Or is a skim-over to create a general mental outline more appropriate? Is the trouble with the initial argument or thesis? Or is it with the way the thesis is argued or supported?

            As you begin to leave comments and questions, remember that, unless you tell them explicitly, your client does not know how you read through the paper, what you are focusing on, or what your intent is. If, for example, a client writes “Kant’s ‘Categorical Imperative’ is in contrast with utilitarianism. It is much better morally,” and you leave the comment, “You might want to clarify this,” it can be read in many different ways. The client might simply think “oh, I wrote ‘it’ and I should probably be more specific since I have both ‘Categorical Imperative’ and ‘utilitarianism’ in the previous sentence. I’ll change it to ‘The Categorical Imperative is better morally.’” Alternatively, they may think “in philosophy, the term ‘ethics’ refers to the consideration of right and wrong, so I should use ‘ethically’ instead of ‘morally.’” In actuality, you probably meant neither of these, but rather something like “you’ll need to explain why or how the Categorical Imperative is better than utilitarianism morally.” Specificity is key!

            Although there is no secret formula for online sessions, there are ways to maintain that level of engagement. Challenge yourself with the questions you ask and the way you read, and you may find an all new appreciation for the fickle online appointment.
Clayton Hensley
Texas A&M University

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