Discussion There are a variety of options when wanting to work in a lab. In this discussion, do a little research to describe a research lab and the role of the lab manager. Please use a specific laboratory (make sure you cite it in APA and use in-text citations where necessary).
(a) Lab category: (examples–clinical, industry, academic, research, animal care, pharmaceutical, etc.) Once you select a specific laboratory and decide on the category, please state why it would fit under the category selected. Support your answers from information from the website.
(b) Type of company (profit, non-profit, fee-use, applied research, medical, product-producing, etc.) and relate this in a complete sentence. Please relate why your laboratory selected falls under this category.
(c) Work conducted in lab (2-3 sentence summary) and if this is why you selected this lab (are you interested in this topic).
(d) 3 to 5 responsibilities of the Lab Manager in this setting in complete sentences
(e) Any web references used (please cite the website of the laboratory you selected) Module 3: Laboratory Dynamics and Communication
Contrary to the popular media image of the lone scientist working in the lab late into the night, most scientists do not work in isolation. The lab is a dynamic workplace with teams of individuals, and, as manager, you will spend a large amount of time dealing with the interpersonal and social dynamics of your teams.
Your success as a manager will depend on your ability to understand and manage interactions in the lab. An awareness of the different types of communication and the cultural issues that can arise in workplace exchanges will help you not only to communicate more effectively with the members of your lab, but to identify and mitigate communication problems among employees, managers, organizations and industries, and cultures. In this module, we will discuss many aspects of open communication and conflict resolution.
Outcomes and Objectives
Course Learning Outcomes Addressed in this Module
· foster effective laboratory communication and problem-solving using various approaches
Module 3 Learning Objectives
After completing this module, you should be able to
· identify the components of effective communication
· effectively use oral, written, and electronic communication in the lab
· identify common types of conflicts and warning signs of conflict
· describe the steps of conflict resolution
Section 1. The Importance of Effective Communication Section 2. Oral Communication in the Lab Environment Section 3. Written and Electronic Communication in the Lab Environment Section 4. Communication Channels in the Lab Environment Section 5. Summary
Section 1. The Importance of Effective Communication
Effective communication is the most important skill a manager can develop. In assessing our capacity to communicate, most of us rate our own communication skills as above average. Our coworkers, however, generally rate our skills as below average (Flauto, 1999). Narrowing the gap between these two perceptions is one goal of effective communication. If you fail, for example, to convey that samples need to be placed in the freezer, you could jeopardize an entire week’s worth of work. Remembering to communicate this information, and knowing how and to whom to communicate it, ensures a smooth workflow and unperturbed lab members.
Communication is a cyclic process (see figure 3.1) involving a person sending a message (sender) and a person receiving the message (receiver). Psychologist Carl Rogers holds that the receiver needs to be able to extract the full, uncensored content of the message from the sender without any prejudices, biases, or assumptions getting in the way. He refers to this process as nondirective listening, arguing that listening is as important as sending the message in a communication exchange.
Figure 3.1 The Communication Process
Many of us believe that we have gotten a message across simply because we have told someone what to do. Effective communication, however, occurs only when a message has been received in the exact way in which the sender intended. Communication involves several stages, and each can give rise to confusion and misunderstanding. The sender of the message must encode his or her thoughts, and the receiver must decode the message to understand what the sender meant.
Use Your Knowledge 3.1
Read the following scenario. Use it below to reflect on a communication issue arising in a particular lab.
As Jeremy is leaving for a doctor’s appointment, he asks his technician, Candace, to prepare a stock solution of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) for protein extraction. Jeremy is in a hurry, and does not have time to answer any questions. Candace looks in the lab’s protocol book for the recipe, but cannot find it. Knowing that Jeremy needs the solution later that day, she follows a recipe from her previous lab and makes 1 percent SDS.
When Jeremy returns that afternoon, he is upset; he did not want 1 percent SDS. The empty bottle of stock on his bench clearly indicates that a volume of 2 percent SDS is needed. Jeremy will need to re-make the SDS solution, and will not be able to begin his protein extraction until tomorrow. He feels that Candace did not follow his instructions.
1. How did Jeremy fail in the communication process?
2. What actions could both Jeremy and Candace have taken to improve their communication?
Section 2. Oral Communication in the Lab Environment
In the previous modules, we discussed the roles and responsibilities of lab personnel and the lab manager. In this section, we will focus on the communication skills you will need in order to fulfill your duties as both a manager and a scientist.
Working with a team of scientists has been compared to herding cats, with each individual resistant to the group dynamic and prone to ignoring the requests of management (Cohen & Cohen, 2005). To effectively communicate with and direct your team, you will first have to use your research and analytical skills to evaluate your personality and your approach to others. Your ability to understand yourself and to use this understanding to relate and respond to others will be critical to good communication in the lab.
Personality and Attitude
Our personality affects the ways in which we communicate and behave in the workplace, so it is important for a manager to understand the various personality types and some of the competencies associated with them. Table 3.1 lists some of the working behaviors common to different personality types as laid out in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. One individual will exhibit traits of multiple types, with one in each row dominating.
Table 3.1 MBTI Personality Types and Associated Workplace Traits
· enjoys participating in a variety of activities
· often becomes impatient with paperwork or other tedious tasks
· acts quickly without a lot of reflection
· enjoys working in a team
· enjoys working alone
· prefers to work on one task at a time
· prefers to think before acting
· prefers to work in a quiet and calm environment
· enjoys using facts and numbers
· has good time management skills
· works in the present and is not focused on the past or future
· draws on previous experiences to make decisions
· enjoys complex problems
· focuses on the future
· enjoys seeing the “big picture”
· relies on intuition and hunches rather than on facts
· enjoys finding logical solutions to problems
· is task-oriented
· makes decisions based on facts rather than feelings
· has firm opinions and takes stands
· enjoys coming up with solutions to problems
· is people-oriented
· values harmony
· tries to avoid unpleasant news or situations
· prefers for things to be planned and orderly
· is task-oriented
· likes to plot out work to avoid rushing to meet deadlines
· uses lists to maintain order and control
· takes a loose, casual approach to work
· works in short bursts of energy
· is stimulated by deadlines and not thrown by unexpected events
· approaches work as play, or mixes work and play
Source: Adapted from Michael, 2003; The Myers & Briggs Foundation, n.d.
Our personality has a strong influence on our attitude. An introvert and an extrovert will display very different attitudes in the workplace and feel very differently about certain situations and people. In the lab environment, an extrovert may have several experiments running simultaneously and be outspoken during lab meetings, whereas an introvert may conduct one experiment at a time and prefer to work hours where there is little activity or distraction in the lab.
In module 1, we discussed the use of the Keirsey Temperament Sorter as a tool for self-evaluation. Recall that temperament is a combination of one’s thought processing and one’s actions, including characteristics such as communication style, values, skills, and personal perception of worth, both in the workplace and socially. Temperament and personality are similar, and they align in many ways. For example, if you fall into the thinking category of the MBTI, you probably fit with the rationalist category of Keirsey. Your management style and leadership probably reflect the attitudes typical of these categories.
In addition to taking shape from our personality and temperament, attitude is affected by our experiences. Our experiences of fear, success, defeat, and social pressure may influence our behavior and feelings in certain situations.
Can you change your attitude? Yes. The first step is to recognize the various aspects of your personality and the experiences that have led to your current modes of behavior. The second step is to use strategies that build a positive attitude and self-efficacy (Bandura, 1982). Self-efficacy is the awareness of how well you think you handle situations. How well do you handle tardy employees or mistakes made in following a lab protocol? Do others perceive your reactions as appropriate? As you encounter different situations in the lab, assess your behavior. Self-efficacy gives you the power to evaluate yourself and to alter your actions so as to bring about desired outcomes.
Attitude and Communication in the Lab
Scientists tend to be highly intuitive, analytical, logical thinkers, and are often judgmental (Cohen & Cohen, 2005).
These traits may lead us to overlook behavioral cues of our coworkers or to fail to notice how our actions affect others. If you are working in a research environment, many of your coworkers will share these traits. The question then becomes, how do you communicate openly in a productive, collegial manner that does not lead to conflict, and, when conflict occurs, how do you resolve it?
Scientists do also tend to be open and flexible in thought and behavior, possessing a willingness to learn and improve. Improvement in communication depends on self-awareness. Why is self-awareness important? In difficult situations or during an interpersonal conflict, a person who has a problem with your actions may never communicate this with you, or may communicate it poorly (Perlmutter, 2011).
To increase your self-awareness, note your feelings in specific work situations, anticipate how they will affect your behavior, and then determine whether or not your behavior will be appropriate to the situation (Cohen & Cohen, 2005). When presented with a difficult situation, how do you respond? Do you become withdrawn and remove yourself from the scene? If so, others may perceive this as indifference or as a sign of incompetence. Do you verbally lash out during confrontations, escalating feelings of anger and mistrust? Do you avoid eye contact and remain silent, giving the appearance of agreement while growing ever more furious? When next faced with a conflict or difficulty, observe your behavior. Use what you see to develop more appropriate reactions to situations and to heighten your effectiveness as a communicator.
In job interviews, you have probably been asked to respond to questions regarding your knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) (OPM, n.d.). In creating a job description, employers list the KSAs required to perform the job. These help them identify good candidates and distinguish one applicant from another.
Knowledge refers to an understanding of something applied directly in the performance of a function. What coursework or prior job experience do you have that fits with the position? Skill refers to an observable competence. Have you performed experiments similar to those you would conduct in this position? Ability refers to the competency needed to perform an observable action or one that results in an observable product. Do you have leadership experience? If so, how effective were you at guiding others and achieving results?
Recently, the KSAs have changed to accommodate personality and behavior. Many employers view abilities as a reflection of attitude, and, in human resources, attitude is quickly replacing abilities in the assessment of KSAs. Attitude is demonstrated through affect (interior, emotional response), verbal and nonverbal behavior, and cognitive judgments of people, places, and things.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) defines competency as “the personal and professional attributes that are critical to successful performance” (OPM, n.d.). Figure 3.2 illustrates how knowledge, skills, and attitude come together to create communication competency. The skills required for this competency are further broken down, creating a third level below.
Figure 3.2 Components of Communication Competency
To further understand how KSAs lead to communication competency, consider this scenario: As lab manager, you are asked to communicate to a certain audience your knowledge of an experimental method and the results obtained from its use. You do not yet know who the audience will be. If you will be communicating with the PI or a collaborator, you and your audience will share a baseline of knowledge, and your skills as both a lab worker and a presenter will be scrutinized. With this audience, the use of jargon and extensive tables or figures will be beneficial.
However, if you will be giving the presentation to a community member or to a stakeholder such as a corporate sponsor, your audience will not have the baseline of knowledge that you have, and you will need to adjust your communication style accordingly. Your audience will be more receptive to a less technical presentation, and will want to hear about big-picture issues such as the impact of your research on society.
Your attitude of willingness to adjust to different audiences, in addition to the skills and knowledge you possess, will make all the difference as to how you and your lab will be perceived by multiple parties and as to how successful you will be.
Below are some strategies you can use to improve your communication competency in the lab (Barker, 2005).
· Understand yourself: It is important to self-assess frequently, especially when you are developing new skills or practicing a new attitude. Understand that your personality and temperament play a role in your attitude and your interactions with other lab members.
· Understand others: You may sometimes need to play devil’s advocate with yourself or with your fellow lab members. Before reacting, stop and think what it was that triggered your coworker’s behavior or remark. Was it a cultural difference? Was there a personal issue clouding his judgment? Did his DNA extraction experiment fail? Was a grant application denied?
· Invest in relationships: Do not make the mistake of thinking that people who are below you in status do not deserve your attention and respect. Invest in long-term relationships at work. Strive to treat technicians, students, and benchmates with the same respect that you would give the PI. These are the individuals with whom you are working daily, and they will be the first to see your successes, and your failures, in research.
· Develop collaborations and networks: Establish networks within your organization and with outside entities. Networking is the number-one source of new jobs and opportunities, and the more people enjoy working with you, the more they will be likely to recommend you when they are in a position to do so. By building up networks, you expand your resources, which will be invaluable when you are faced with a non-working protocol or when you run low on a reagent. Establishing collaborative projects enables you to work with individuals globally and to build your reputation as a scientist.
· Practice listening: One of the least-developed skills, listening lets the speaker know that you are interested in her and respect her opinion. Use sentences and phrases such as “Can you elaborate?” or “What I’m hearing is. . . ” when you are unsure of something, or to simply to let your speaker know that you are paying attention. Be careful of cultural differences! Looking people in the eye when they are speaking is not always a sign of respect.
· Present fact-based opinions: Yes, you should be forthright in presenting your opinions. But always back them up with thoughtful reflection and facts. Do not let your personal feelings, biases, or prejudices lead you into making a comment or remark that you may later regret. This is especially important when you present your scientific results. The conclusions and opinions you give should be based on data alone.
· Look for the positive: Positive people practice focusing on positive things. You will not obtain perfect, publication-worthy results every day. You may go weeks or months before generating the data you need to support (or disprove) your hypothesis. Revising the experimental design and troubleshooting are the challenges that make being a scientist an exciting and evolving career choice. Remain focused on the goals of the project, be patient, and keep an upbeat attitude in the face of any challenges that arise.
· Avoid negative traps: For example, it is probably best to avoid the small group of people who consistently gather in the halls or the breakroom to complain about failed experiments, contaminated reagents, or missing equipment. Avoid being drawn into these traps. Not only will you be putting your own attitude in jeopardy, but you will risk being seen as one of those negative people who complain and do not contribute to the group.
· Follow deadlines: Establish a time management plan, such as the SMART system discussed in module 1, to meet deadlines for yourself and others. This will help keep you organized and effective as a manager. When asking an employee to run a gel or prepare a reagent, inform him by what date or time you need the task completed in order to establish a timeframe.
Use Your Knowledge 3.2
Read the following scenario. Use it below to reflect on a miscommunication arising in a particular lab.
Your lab is holding its weekly meeting. The PI is revising a grant proposal due later that day, and is not fully participating in the discussion. Brainstorming between you—the lab manager—and a postdoctoral associate leads to the development of a new method of analyzing difficult samples in an efficient manner.
Despite enthusiasm from the lab team, the PI continues to ignore the discussion and does not adopt the new method in his work. A few weeks later, however, during another meeting, the PI proposes a similar method to a new graduate student as a possible thesis project. You and the postdoctoral associate are angered by the PI’s actions, and silence falls over the conference room as a sense of discomfort takes hold.
1. How could the PI have prevented this awkward situation?
2. How could you help resolve such a situation without stirring anger or furthering the discomfort?
Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
As you become more self-aware and more able to anticipate the reactions of your team members, you will notice how negotiation and persuasion play a strong role in lab meetings, the development of protocols, the presentation of results, the publication process, and work with resources outside the lab (Cohen & Cohen, 2005).
To be a good negotiator, follow these steps. First, be aware of your actions, and remain focused on the interests of the project, not on your personal objectives. Second, evaluate the behavior and needs of others and respond to the others kindly to promote alliance. Third, and most important, be a good listener, really hearing the concerns and interests of others. If both sides are speaking at once, no progress will be made.
In the box below, see some negotiation techniques:
Techniques for Effective Negotiation and Conflict Resolution
1. Prepare for the negotiation.
2. Focus on interests, not on positional demands.
3. Focus on the problem, not on assigning blame.
4. Be willing to accept alternate resolutions.
5. Manage your behavior and defuse anger.
Negotiations at research, academic, and industrial facilities tend to hinge on such issues as requests for a raise in salary, the assignment of work to a shared technician, unrealistic demands of a supervisor, and personality clashes.
Prior to entering the negotiation, prepare by familiarizing yourself with the facts and the interests of the project or company. You would not go on vacation for a week without first making preparations, and the same should be true of embarking on a negotiation.
Your preparations should include identifying a) underlying interests, b) various options for resolving the conflict, c) any precedents set for similar situations at your company or in your field, d) alternative outcomes if no compromise can be reached, and d) your bottom line—the minimum criteria that need to be met for an acceptable resolution.
Never lose sight of the underlying interests of the project, lab, or corporation. Your aim is to ensure that these interests are protected. It may, however, be necessary for you to make compromises to move forward. It may help you to speak with others at the company or university to determine whether similar situations have arisen in the past and what the outcomes were. It is important to remain flexible during the negotiation process.
Use Your Knowledge 3.3
Read the following scenario. Use it in the activity below to reflect on a negotiation issue arising in a particular lab.
Jane is approaching her supervisor to request a promotion and raise in her Research and Development division. Over the past year, Jane has streamlined toxicological assessments with the drug discovery team and has improved communication with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to help avoid sanctions. Jane’s supervisor has not credited her for these accomplishments in division meetings or in Jane’s preliminary performance evaluation. If Jane does not get the promotion and raise, she will consider leaving the company.
Jane enters her supervisor’s office, and they have an exchange that you will read and analyze once you click the link below.
Reflection Activity Use Your Knowledge 3.3 – Please go to My Tools -> Self Assessments -> to complete this self assessment.
Common Problems and Conflict Causes
Scientists typically focus on the technical and analytical aspects of their work, and may not notice developing interpersonal or social problems. You may be required to complete management training seminars or workshops, but these alone will not lead to successful management or insight into developing tensions.
Your awareness of your actions and behavior and their effects will impact how you handle difficult situations that arise within your lab. As lab manager, you will be called upon to identify and resolve these situations. In table 3.2 below, we will address common problems in lab environments and how to handle them.
Often, when faced with a difficult or uncomfortable situation, we walk away or ignore the problem (Cohen & Cohen, 2005). When unsure as to how to handle a conflict or problem, you may be tempted to avoid it and hope that the individuals concerned will effect their own resolution. However, it is your responsibility to work with your team to resolve problems before they can negatively impact the group dynamic and productivity. Avoiding conflict is one of the most common and damaging mistakes made by management in the sciences.
Table 3.2 Common Conflicts Encountered in the Lab Environment
Possible Management Solution
A lab member constantly complains about the research project, coworkers, equipment, lab policies, and so forth. The individual’s negative attitude brings down overall morale.
Meet privately with the individual and state, “I understand that you have expressed dissatisfaction with some of our policies. Next time, please come directly to me if you have a concern. I promise that I will listen and take whatever steps I can to remedy the situation.”
Poor personal hygiene
A lab member, who is perhaps from a different culture, has personal hygiene habits that differ from those of the other lab members, and those others consider the habits offensive.
The other lab members may not work with the individual because it is unpleasant. The individual may not be aware of the cultural differences, and may feel unwelcome in the lab.
Meet privately with the individual to discuss changes to his hygiene, taking care to convey respect for his culture while giving him pointers on grooming.
An employee tells sexist jokes, comments on the clothing choices of coworkers, dresses inappropriately (wears revealing clothing), and/or views sexually explicit images on shared computers. Other lab members complain about this behavior, and the individual insults them or laughs.
Consult company policy or human resources for direction. The lab member may be reprimanded and reminded of company policy or required to participate in additional company training.
Arrogant jerk behavior
A lab member is a bully or troublemaker who manipulates others in the lab or forces her opinions on others. In lab meetings, she may dominate the conversation and interrupt others.
Meet privately with the individual and request that she give others a chance to speak at lab meetings, or direct the group so that the format of your meetings precludes interruption.
For daily lab activities, the jerk should be held to the terms and timeframes of the sign-up sheets posted and to lab policies. Dominant, bullying behavior should not be rewarded with increased access to equipment or resources.
Perpetual tardiness and substandard work
An individual is always late to work or is dishonest in reporting hours worked, does not complete difficult tasks on time, and/or is often missing from the lab during the workday.
Prior to meeting with the individual privately, document specific instances of the poor behavior. Meet with the individual and say something like this:
“I have noticed that your work isn’t as good as it has been in the past. Your attendance and attention to detail have declined. Is there something affecting your work that you would like to talk about?”
If the situation does not improve, continue your documentation and consult the company about proper actions and possible dismissal.
Section 3. Written and Electronic Communication in the Lab Environment
Fundamentally, writing is about people—a sender and a receiver with their own goals and objectives. Effective communication demands that each understand the other as well as his or her intent. When preparing a written communication, you should ask yourself, “What is my purpose, and who is my audience?” The answers to these questions will determine the form and style of your writing.
Writing a note to the babysitter outlining your children’s evening routine, for instance, is notably different from preparing a manuscript for publication. The first communication will likely be a handwritten list with telephone numbers, times, and activities. The second will be much longer and more complex, and will include subheadings, methodologies, tables or graphs, and so on. One will be informal; the other, formal. One will be strictly to inform; the other, both to inform and to persuade the scientific community of your conclusions.
In any organization, information flows simultaneously through formal and informal channels. No doubt you are familiar with formal channels that move messages up and down the organizational structure—what we often refer to as the chain of command. Formal messages also travel laterally among colleagues.
Informal channels are those exchanges we have at social events and in loosely organized settings such as the cafeteria, the hallway, and the training session. Table 3.3 offers some examples of formal and informal communication.
Table 3.3 Formal and Informal Communication
Examples of Formal Communication
Examples of Informal Communication
· messages that move up and down the chain of command (memos, requests, reports)
· messages that move horizontally across the organizational structure—for example, among labs working together on a project
· discussion in lab meetings between staff members and supervisors
· transmission of information via organization-wide newsletters, e-mail and voice mail messages, flyers, posters, and bulletin board announcements
· nonofficial exchanges among employees that take place within the organization (around the coffee pot or water cooler, in the cafeteria or photocopying room, at training sessions, in informal e-mail messages)
· nonofficial exchanges among employees that take place outside the organization (at church, at the PTA, or at children’s athletic activities; during chance encounters while shopping)
· nonofficial exchanges among employees of different organizations (while networking at conferences and similar events or keeping in touch with friends)
“Work smarter, not harder” is good advice to apply in the sciences. Every opportunity for communication is an opportunity to think critically and to demonstrate knowledge. Workplace communication is …