Academic Minute Podcast

Luisa Ruge-Jones, University of Dayton – It Matters How You Talk About Your Differences

Solving big challenges in our society demands working together as a team.

Luisa Ruge-Jones, assistant professor of communication at the University of Dayton, explores the best way to do this.

Luisa Ruge-Jones’ primary research interests focus on team science, group communication and organizational communication. Her research examines how organizational policies and infrastructure affect how teams collaborate and work together. She is also interested in higher education policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and research methods and mentoring.

It Matters How You Talk About Your Differences

Solving societal challenges — like climate change, food and water security and energy sustainability — requires a diversity of perspectives. But working on teams with diverse perspectives can be challenging because of navigating group differences. Organizational communication scholars argue scientific teams are particularly insightful for understanding group dynamics because scientific teams must manage and negotiate very specialized knowledge.

Forty-two participants from a variety of organizations, disciplines, genders, ages and cultural backgrounds formed 11 teams for our six-month project. We conducted interviews with participants about how their teams worked together, and recorded monthly group meetings where participants updated everyone on their progress and challenges. Interview data allowed us to analyze how teams activated and framed their differences, and worked through them.

We found some teams fell apart; while others, who were nearly identical in their diversity composition, were successful. Much of the success of navigating their differences resulted because of the teams’ ability to discuss differences in a positive way. When working on diverse teams, it is important to do three things.

First, have conversations early and often about your differences and how they are affecting the team’s work.

Second, talk about not only the challenges of the differences, but also the benefits the differences offer to your team’s problem-solving.

And third, spend time deeply understanding your teammates’ perspectives and celebrating those differences before finding common ground and integrating your knowledge.

Ultimately, it’s not just about what differences you have, but how you talk about them.

Read More:
[Sage Journals] – Activated Differences: A Qualitative Study of How and When Differences Make a Difference on Diverse Teams


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