Alternative Communication Skills | 30 January 2014

On January 30th, Julian Edge delivered a workshop to PhD and early career researchers at The University of Manchester by the title Alternative communication skills to support researcher development .

The following is the workshop description:

This interactive workshop introduces a set of alternative communication skills that can be used to support individual researcher development and, at the same time, to increase collegiality among researchers. The approach can be applied to strategic planning, to issues of personal or interpersonal significance, and to strictly intellectual issues. For example:
• How can I best formulate the intended impact of my research proposal?
• My PI is changing my research in ways that I don’t like.
• What do I understand to be the role of pre-existing schematic understanding in the procedures of Grounded Theory? (Or supply your own conceptual problem.)

A basic assumption of the workshop is that participants are in sympathy with the principles of reflective practice: i.e. we learn by reflecting on our actions and articulating what we have learned as an input to future planning. The central idea of the workshop is to release the potential of non-judgmental communication. This means, in simplest terms: You can say whatever you want to. No one will agree or disagree with you. Now, what do you want to say? This is a novel and demanding situation. It is also, of course, the very opposite of the communicative environment in which we usually operate, where argument, critique, discussion and evaluation are paramount. That is the point. While argument, critique, discussion and evaluation are very useful in carrying out research, the amount of energy expended in defending, scoring points, avoiding defeat and winning also takes its toll. Creating a non-judgmental environment for an agreed period of time does not replace the need for argument, critique, discussion and evaluation. It offers additional opportunities to find different ways forward.

The practical objectives of the workshop are that participants will (1) work on their own issues and take their thinking forward, (2) acquire communication skills that will be new to many and (3), having completed the workshop, they will be in a position to judge whether or not non-judgmental communication might be useful to them in their individual and collegial development as researchers.

The following is the workshop handout which you are welcome to use or modify so long as you reference the website (

.. and to get a flavour of how Cooperative Development can be used to foster researcher development, please listen to the following exchange from the session (16 min):