Business Communication


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Business Communication with Cengage Learning


  • GM Terminates 15 People

    GM is cleaning house, hoping to rid itself of criticism about delaying recalls, which caused 13 deaths. CEO Mary Barra announced the decision after an internal investigation revealed that several executives knew about an ignition switch problem for years and avoided a fix that would have cost 57 cents. In a message to employees, captured on video, Barra says she is guided by two principles: "doing the right thing for those who were harmed" and taking responsibility "to make sure this never happens again." She also blames the actions of "a few people," a strategic move to separate the company from a few bad apples who have since left. Fifteen people were terminated and another five were disciplined, some for misconduct and others for not taking enough action. One email showed that several people were aware of the problem , which persisted for another nine years. A GM parts manufacturer wrote, Chevy "Cobalt is blowing up in their face in regards to turning the car off." Discussion Starters: How do you assess GM's decision to terminate 15 people and discipline another five? Is this enough? What other persuasive strategies is Barra using in her presentation to employees? What key messages do you take from the video?
  • What We Learn from 300 Commencement Speeches Since 1774

    NPR has compiled more than 300 commencement speeches , all searchable by "name, school, date, or theme." In an article about the speeches, NPR identified 12 themes : Change the world Tips Inner voice Don't give up Work hard Embrace failure Remember history Dream Balance Make Art YOLO Be kind NPR also tells us about the changing face of commencement speakers: "Since the colonial era, young graduates in stiff gowns and itchy mortarboards have been forced to sit through this one last lecture. On rare occasions, politicians have used commencements to say important things, like John F. Kennedy announcing a nuclear test ban. Other lucky graduates have been treated to profound musings by literary geniuses like Joseph Brodsky and Kurt Vonnegut or calls to action by activists like Gloria Steinem. "Today, like so much else, the format has become dominated by celebs — the Conan O'Briens, Meryl Streeps, and Amy Poehlers. But commencement speeches still make news, and like those by the late David Foster Wallace and the great George Saunders, they can still be poetry." Discussion Starters: If you were to watch just two speeches, which would you watch? Would you search by name, school, or something else? Watch and assess one of the speeches: What observations do you make about the organization, tone, delivery, messages, and so on?
  • Don Sterling Finally Apologizes but Not Very Well

    Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling started his interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN with a clear apology, but it was an odd showing overall. Business Insider called the interview a train wreck. The first part of the interview shown here goes well: "I made a terrible, terrible mistake. And I'm here with you today to apologize and to ask for forgiveness for all of the people I've that hurt. I've never dreamt that this could happen." But the interview seems to go downhill from there. Sterling said that he was hurt by Magic Johnson, and yet he was quite critical of the famous player. He said that he prayed for Johnson "when he had those AIDS," suggested that Johnson isn't a good role model, said that he "should be ashamed of himself," and questioned what he has done for the Black community. In another interview, Sterling's estranged wife, Shelly Sterling, spoke on The Today Show . She is fighting to keep her part-ownership of the clippers and said, "I'm very angry. And I'm very hurt. And I even cried listening to that [Don Sterling's CNN interview], because I just feel bad. . . .Why am I the victim when he's the perpetrator? If somebody killed somebody, does the wife have to stand trial too?" Discussion Starters: What could Sterling have done differently during the interview? Consider his preparation and delivery? Watch the full video. How are Sterling's own attitudes getting in the way of his attempts to rebuild his image? Was appearing on CNN the right decision? Why or why not?
  • News Conference About Hot-Air Balloon

    A hot-air balloon drifted into a power line, caught fire, and then crashed in Virginia . The pilot and two passengers, staff members of the University of Richmond's women's basketball program, were killed. The state police led the news conference about the incident. The University of Richmond posted this statement on its website: Spiders Saddened By Tragic Hot Air Balloon Accident Courtesy:Richmond Athletics Release:05/10/2014 UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND, Va. -- The University of Richmond community extends its prayers and thoughts to the families of two members of the women’s basketball staff who were aboard a balloon that crashed May 9 in Caroline County, Va. Ginny Doyle , associate head women’s basketball coach, and Natalie Lewis , director of basketball operations, were on the balloon that crashed shortly before 8 p.m. Virginia State Police have recovered two of the balloon’s three occupants. Official identification is pending from the Medical Examiner’s Office. "As alumnae, classmates, and colleagues – and as invaluable and devoted mentors for our student-athletes – Ginny and Natalie have been beloved members of our community,” said President Edward L. Ayers. “Their leadership and friendship will endure in the lives of so many.” “Words cannot begin to express our sorrow,” said Keith Gill , director of athletics. “We are all stunned by the tragic news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their loved ones.” Doyle, a former Richmond basketball standout who graduated in 1992, has served on the Spiders’ staff for 16 years. During her tenure at Richmond, she helped guide the Spiders to nine winning seasons, an at-large berth to the 2005 NCAA Tournament, five consecutive postseason appearances and a first-ever appearance in the Atlantic 10 Championship final in 2009. As a student-athlete, Doyle was a two-time all-conference player, leading the Spiders to the 1991 CAA Championship and NCAA Tournament. She is the program’s career leader in free throw percentage and set the NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws made with 66, a mark that stood for 18 years. Lewis graduated from Richmond in 2011 and began her professional career with Spider Athletics in 2012. She has been with the women’s basketball program for the past two seasons. As an undergraduate, Lewis was a championship swimmer and four-year varsity letter winner at Richmond, serving twice as team captain. She was on three Atlantic 10 swimming championship teams. She also was a student government cabinet member and graduated as a Spider Scholar Athlete. The university has arranged access to counselors to assist faculty, staff and students following this tragic accident. Discussion Starters: Assess the news conference in terms of delivery style, content, organization, and so on. In this video clip, we see only part of the news conference. What else should be said? What's your view of the university's statement? What works well, and what could be improved?
  • NBA and Sponsors Respond to Clippers Owner's Offensive Comments

    An audio recording of LA Clippers owner Don Sterling shocked the league with comments that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called "truly offensive and disturbing." The nine-minute recording, released by TMZ , included these statements made to Sterling's girlfriend, who happens to be black and Mexican: "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?" (3:30) "You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that ... and not to bring them to my games." (5:15) "I’m just saying, in your lousy ******* Instagrams, you don’t have to have yourself with, walking with black people." (7:45) "...Don't put him [Magic] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games." (9:13) Commissioner Silver made a short statement and then answered questions during a news conference: Head Coach and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Doc Rivers made this statement, posted on the NBA website : "I would like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to [Donald Sterling] and I can’t even begin to tell you how upset I am and our players are. Today, I had a meeting with the members of our organization. When you are around all these people, you realize they are just as upset and embarrassed by the situation and it does not reflect who they really are. That was what I got from all of them. They are now a part of this and they are upset at this. But, they are all going to hang in there and so are we - I can tell you that as a group and as a team. From our fans’ standpoint, I want to say that they have been amazing, I can tell you that. We need unbelievable support right now from other people and I’m hoping we get that. My hope is that whatever the fans do, it is as one. I think that is what we all should do. "We want to make the right decisions here. We’re doing our very best to try and do that. We know that fans are in a dilemma as well. We want them to cheer for their players and their team. It will always be their players and their team. From the fans that I have heard from, that’s how they feel. ‘This is my team. These are my players that I’m cheering for and that’s not going to change.’ I hope STAPLES Center is packed and people are cheering for the players. The players are now in the middle of this, and they have to deal with it. "We are all trying to figure out everything as it goes and just do our best and we hope that it is the right answer. I’m still going to do my best and do what I think is best for the team and for everybody in this case. It is very difficult because there are so many emotions in this. This is a very emotional subject, this is personal. "My belief is that the longer we keep winning, the more we talk about this. I believe that is good. If we want to make a statement - I believe that is how we have to do it. I think that is the right way to do it, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t wrestle with it every day and every moment. That is the difficult part. "We are all doing our best here. Our players are doing their best. There are a lot of people involved in this. From one man’s comments, a lot of people have been affected and the conversations that we’re all having do need to be had." As the NBA addresses inquiries, sponsors are pulling out . Mercedes-Benz, CarMax, Virgin America, State Farm, the Chumash Casino Resorts, Red Bull, Kia Motors America, Lumber Liquidators, and Yokohama Tire have all announced an end to or suspension of their advertising agreements. UPDATE: Adam Silver announces that Sterling will be fined the maximum $2.5 million and banned from the NBA for life. Discussion Starters: Although the NBA has been responding to questions, the league has made no comment about the declining sponsorships. What, if anything, should be said at this point? What is suspiciously missing from these communications?
  • South Korea Prime Minister Apologizes and Resigns

    South Korea Prime Minister Chung Hong-won has resigned , taking responsibility for issues associated with the ferry that sank . More than 300 people died, mostly high school students. In his resignation speech, the PM said that resigning was "the right thing to do" and apologized for "many problems, from the prevention of the accident to the early handling of the accident (BBC translation)." Initially, families were told that everyone had been rescued. Critics say that the prime minister is a figure head and that President Park Geun-hye should take the fall. The opposing party called the resignation a " cowardly evasion of responsibility" and called for the president to apologize . A professor of political science and diplomacy at Myongji University in Seoul said the incident will not likely affect the upcoming election in June. Shin Yul said that the resignation "may tip the scales a bit, but in terms of the elections, this incident has been unfavorable to both parties because voters are angry with all public figures." Discussion Starters: What's your view of the resignation? Was it the right thing to do, only a symbolic gesture, an act of scapegoating, or something else? As you might expect, President Park Geun-hye accepted Chun's apology. What else, if anything, should she do?
  • Captain of Korean Ferry Is Arrested and Apologizes

    The captain and two crew members of the South Korean Ferry that capsized with hundreds of people on board were arrested. As of today, about 75 people were rescued, 29 bodies were recovered, and 236 are still missing, mostly high schools students taking a trip. In this video, the captain and a crew member apologize. Additional questions by the press are below. Q: Was there any place to turn? You evacuated the crew but why not to passengers? Capt: I gave the evacuation order. Q: Did you? Capt: Yes, I gave the evacuation order to passengers too. Q: Why did the announcement ask the passengers to stay in their cabin? Capt: At that time, none of the rescue ships had arrived at the scene . Q: Nothing there? Capt: Yes, at that time. Q: But you evacuated first? Capt: No. Q: Do you accept the charges of the prosecutor's office? Capt: Yes, I understand there are some parts that are my fault. Anyway, I am sorry I caused the trouble. I apologise to all Koreans and especially I bow my head in apology to the family of the victims. There are some parts I do not understand. There is no such (mumbles). Q: Did you give evacuation orders? Capt: Yes, I did. Q: But there were many announcements asking passengers to stay in the cabin. Why? Capt: That's before the rescue boats arrived. Q: At that time, is it true the ship was tilting seriously? Capt: The boat was in an area of very strong current, the temperature of the ocean water was cold and I thought if people left the ferry without proper judgement, if they not were wearing a life jacket, and even if they were, they would drift away and face many other difficulties. The rescue boats had not arrived yet, nor were there any civilian fishing ships or other boats around at that time. Q: When did you notify the coastguard? When was the first sign of a problem? Capt: I remember it was probably around 9.50am. Q: 9.50am? Wasn't it 8.50? Capt: Yes, 8.50. Q: Did you feel anything strange before that? Capt: No. Q: Was there any place you can turn? Capt: It is not that there was no place to turn the boat. I asked the crew to stay on the route. I briefly went to my bedroom and I was on my way back when it happened. Q: You went to your bedroom? Capt: Yes. Q: There were rumours that you were drunk? Capt: No. Q: Are you sure? Capt: Yes. To add more tragedy to this situation, the students' deputy headmaster committed suicide . Reports show he did "everything by the book" but apparently was overcome with grief. He left a note that said, "Surviving alone is too painful while 200 remain unaccounted for. I take full responsibility. I pushed ahead with the school trip," and "I will once again become a teacher in the afterlife for my students whose bodies have not been discovered." Discussion Starters: The captain and crew are criticized for leaving the boat and for telling people to remain in the ship rather than evacuate. What could explain their actions? From watching the video, what cultural differences can you identify? In other words, how might this situation differ if it happened in the United States?
  • Joy Behar Roasts Chris Christie

    The video is rough , but we can watch comedian Joy Behar roast New Jersey Governor Chris Christie at an event to celebrate a former governor's 90th birthday. Behar poked fun at Christie's weight and the bridge scandal: "When I first heard that he was accused of blocking off three lanes on the bridge, I said, ‘What the hell is he doing, standing in the middle of the bridge?" A story in The New Yorker described the scene in the video above: "After another barb, Christie interrupted her. 'This is a Byrne roast,' he said. He stood up and tried to grab her notes. The audience laughed awkwardly. 'Stop bullying me,' Behar said as he sat down. Christie said something out of earshot and Behar responded, 'Why don’t you get up here at the microphone instead of being such a coward?' Christie stood up again and moved in front of the lectern as Behar retreated. 'At least I don’t get paid for this,' he said. "Christie sat down and Behar continued, though she was noticeably rattled. 'I really don’t know about the Presidency,” she said. 'Let me put it to you this way, in a way that you’d appreciate: You’re toast.'" Discussion Starters: After watching the video clip, I wouldn't have described the scene as The New Yorker author did. How about you? What could explain the difference? What's a roast? Research the history and purpose. Why are insults accepted—even expected—while they would be shunned in most business settings?
  • Barra Answers Tough Questions at the Hearing

    GM CEO Mary Barra faced a panel of angry senators at the hearing investigating the company's failure to fix faulty ignition switches. Barra began by reading her testimony: The New York Times describes the scene: "As family members of victims looked on, senators repeatedly cut off Ms. Barra, scolded her over failing to have answers and zeroed in on G.M.’s potential criminal liability for failing to fix defective ignition switches in millions of small cars for more than a decade." The Times blog identified a few highlights from the questioning, including this reaction from a victim's father: "She’s not doing anything except stonewalling and saying she’s a mother and has children and is sorry and is communicating with the families." Discussion Starters: Assess Barra's initial testimony . What works well in convincing the senators, and what could be improved? One of Barra's strategies is to try to distinguish herself from the "old GM." How well is this strategy working? Watch more of the hearings on YouTube or news sites. How well is Barra handling the senators' questions?
  • Malaysia Airlines and PM Announce Demise of Flight MH370

    The Malaysia Prime Minister announced that Flight MH370 most likely ended in the Indian Ocean . Malaysia Airlines posted this statement on its website : This message also was texted to the families : In a posting five hours earlier , the airline gave updates and responded to questions. The statement included a section about working with the families: "Yesterday, the high-level team met with families in Beijing for more than eight hours. "The families asked many questions, and made detailed requests for radar readings and other data. Some of these questions could not be answered, and some of the data they requested was still being held by the investigation, as is standard procedure in investigations of this sort. "After meeting with the families for a total of more than twelve hours, and taking hundreds of questions, the high-level team has returned to Kuala Lumpur to discuss the matters raised at the meetings. They will return to Beijing tomorrow to continue. "The briefings in Kuala Lumpur over the last two days went smoothly, and the families responded as positively as could be expected, with the families engaging with representatives from the relevant authorities. "It has always been our intention to keep the families as fully informed as possible. We continue to do so." The Guardian reports tragic scenes of families hearing the news. Their reaction is understandable and was expected: paramedics were sent to the Beijing Hotel where families were called to an "emergency briefing." Discussion Starters: Assess the prime minister's statement to the press. How well does he deliver the bad news? What is the organizational plan? Assess Malaysia Airlines' statement: what works well, and what could be improved? What's your view of the text message? Typically, texting isn't the best way to deliver bad news. Could this be an exception? Why?
  • Malaysia Prime Minister's News Conference About Missing Flight

    The prime minister of Malaysia spoke about missing flight MH370 at a news conference. He begins by showing respect for the families, which is appropriate, and then provides what little information he knows. Most of the conference focuses on the search process. His English is difficult to understand, but couldn't someone do a better job of captioning his speech on YouTube? Surely, he had a script that could be shared with the press and other organizations. Are these "Automatic Captions" worth posting? Discussion Starters: Assess the prime minister's news conference. What works well about the content, organization, and delivery, and what could be improved? What are the main messages you take away from his presentation?
  • Mary Barra's Video Message to GM Employees

    As communication experts question GM's "no comment" strategy with the press, CEO Mary Barra continues her communication with employees. In a four-minute video , Barra addresses what a New York Times article calls "a decade-long failure to fix a defect tied to 12 deaths." While people and companies are increasingly criticized for false apologies , Barra tries to go beyond a simple apology: "We have apologized, but that is only one step in the journey to resolve this." Of course, the company has little choice considering the federal investigations; it must take more action. The video complements an intranet post for employees on March 4 that outlined GM's investigation plans and expressed confidence in the future. Discussion Starters: Assess Barra's video. What works well, and what could be improved in the organization, content, and delivery? What key messages do you take from the video? How do they compare to Barra's message to employees on March 4 ? Why is Barra choosing employee messages as her primary communication vehicle? She has declined interviews with the press. On the other hand, the video is public on GM's website and YouTube. What's her strategy?
  • Funny: Academic Gestures

    A " Glossary of Gestures for Critical Discussion " pokes fun at us academics, who merely try to spice up a lecture and keep students engaged. My favorite is the "Italian waiter: Use when making a cultural observation." If you're inclined, you can order rulers or coasters with the gestures. At least the gestures answer Will Farrell's question in the movie Talledega Nights: "What do I do with my hands?" Discussion Starters: Watch you professors during the next class: how many can you identify? What other gestures do your professors use? Do you notice a difference in how business and other faculty use gestures?
  • Ellen Page Comes Out

    In a speech hosted by the Human Rights Campaign, Actress Ellen Page came out as gay. Her voice is shaking, and she's doing this bouncing thing with her arm. She's clearly nervous. So what? To me, this is a good example of someone who's understandably uncomfortable. Does it detract from her message or endear her to the audience? Discussion Starters: What's your view of Page's nervousness? In what ways did it help and hurt her speech? Why was Page so nervous? Is it a big deal to be gay today?
  • CVS Announces No More Cigarette Sales

    CVS will stop selling tobacco products in its stores. Under the heading, "This is the right thing to do," the company explained the plan on its website . Business Insider calls the move "a clear victory for public health" and "a shrewd tactic to bolster the public image of the pharmacy chain, which is increasingly positioning itself as a health care provider, not just a one-stop shop for greeting cards and cosmetics." Management expects to more than make up the expected $2 billion revenue loss with other services. Without tobacco sales, CVS can boost its in-store MinuteClinics, which operate like health clinics, offering flu-shots and services for minor ailments. Discussion Starters: Assess the CEO's video message. What works well, and what could be improved? Assess video messages by other CVS executives on the company website .
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