Wednesday, August 01, 2012

contra Stacey K.

Back in April of this year, Stacey Koprince, an instructor for Manhattan Prep, wrote this blog post on reading comprehension. Her post contained the following text and GRE question:


Sarah Meyers McGinty, in her new book Power Talk: Using Language to Build Authority and Influence, argues that while the simple lingual act of declaring power does not help a powerless person gain influence, well-considered linguistic techniques and maneuvers do. McGinty does not dispute the importance of factors such as expertise and ability in determining stature, but argues persuasively that these power determinants amount to little in a person unable to communicate effectively. Many surveys have shown that the ability to communicate effectively is the characteristic judged by managers to be most critical in determining promotability in the workplace or an academic environment.

McGinty divides speech into two categories: “language from the center” and “language from the edge[.”] In McGinty’s words, “Language from the center makes a speaker sound like a leader.” McGinty suggests that language from the center is not only for those in high positions of power, but also for those of lower ranks who wish to gain more power and credibility. A speaker using language from the center exhibits the following characteristics: he directs rather than responds; he makes statements rather than asks questions; he contradicts, argues, and disagrees; he uses his experience persuasively; and he maintains an air of impersonality in the workplace. McGinty suggests that the use of language from the center can alter or create a new balance of power. These assertions are supported by studies that show that people accept leadership from those they perceive to be experts.

Language from the edge stands in stark contrast to language from the center. Language from the edge is careful, exploratory, and inquiring. It is inclusive, deferential, and collaborative. A speaker using language from the edge responds rather than directs; asks questions; strives to make others feel heard and protected; and avoids argument. The main purpose of language from the center is to claim authority for a speaker, while language from the edge strives to build consensus and trust. McGinty argues that true power comes from a deep understanding of when to use which style and the ability to use both as necessary.

What distinguishes McGinty’s discussion of effective communication is her focus on communication skills as a way of gaining power; this contrasts with most workplace communication theory, which focuses on communication skills as a way of preventing misunderstandings, avoiding conflict, and fostering interpersonal relationships. McGinty, however, holds that language not only helps maintain relationships but also lends authority. According to Power Talk, effective communication skill “is an understanding of how situation shapes speech and how speech shapes situation” and “an understanding of how speech styles and the forces that affect those styles . . . can build your authority, and enhance your credibility and impact.


The primary focus of the passage is on which of the following?

(A) Demonstrating the effectiveness of a certain framework in the business world

(B) Explaining the advantages and disadvantages of a proposed approach to business communication

(C) Analyzing the details of a controversial theory of business

(D) Presenting a new model of business communication

(E) Articulating the major differences between two types of language

The correct answer is (D), and Koprince provides an involved explanation as to why. Still, I wasn't satisfied with her explanation, and since I'm unable to leave comments on the MGRE blog, I'll leave my comment here:

I can't say that I'm all that comfortable with answer (D), since the article never mentions the newness of the theory: it talks only about how it contrasts with other theories of business communication.

Any evidence for "newness" would have to come from the final paragraph, but instead of giving us any sense of innovation, the paragraph uses language like "What distinguishes...," "this contrasts with...," "McGinty, however..." --all of which points to difference, not newness. You could counterargue that the beginning of the passage announces that this is a "new" book, but there is no necessary link between a new book and a new theory.

I agree that (D) is the best choice, but only because it's the least bad of a set of bad choices. It's easy to see why people might get this question wrong.


1 comment:

Elisson said...

Aw, I think "B" is a better choice... but whadda I know?