Communication and patience

My mantra for last week was breathe, wait, wait some more, then talk/write. Between the ongoing communication problems with our builder, finishing up my annual review, and working with new people across campus, my brain is maxed out. I need some quiet down time to filter the wheat from the chaff. Ill-formed thoughts tend to make it through my verbal filter when I’m too busy. This is rarely a good thing since I tend to be blunt even when the verbal filter is working at full capacity. So, communicating has been really difficult this week. There wasn’t much time for reflection last week, so I’ll share some things that helped me get through the week and leave at that for now.

Assuming positive intent – This has come up several times during our reorganization process and at the library retreat. More than anything else, I think this is the most important step we can take towards building trust with our colleagues, friends, and family. Unscientifically, the stress and cognitive load caused by constantly questioning the motives of those around you seems like it would be more damaging than occasionally being wrong about someone.

Reaching out or stepping back – Sometimes communication requires that we step back, stop talking, listen, and reflect. I’m fairly good about stepping back and reflecting, but not so good at listening when I’m upset. Being the parent of a preschooler and building a house are experiences that provides lots of opportunities to learn this lesson.

Cognitive diversity – This concept has popped up in my news feed so many times that I had to learn more. Forbes has a review of Scott Page’s book “The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, & Societies, which differentiates between cognitive diversity and identity diversity. If you want to learn more, there was an interesting study (doi:10.1177/1046496409338302) done in Australia on the role of cognitive diversity in knowledge creation. In an environment like higher education, where critical thinking is taught and valued highly, you might think we would recognize the importance of cognitive diversity in our students, staff, and faculty. But institutions of higher ed are also slow to change and biased towards tradition. The problem is that cognitive diversity (or is it identity diversity?) can be at odds with academic norms and acculturation with a discipline or field. We expect new faculty and students to behave in certain ways so the system runs smoothly, which puts pressure on those who don’t acculturate as fast as we might like. Understanding how cognitive and identity diversity contribute to institutions could help or hinder higher education in adapting to budget pressures, declining public trust and valuation, and rapidly changing research practices and technologies. I’m putting this on my list of things to dig into further someday.

By Heather L. Coates

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