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Managing Research Projects

Managing Research Projects

Developing Supportive Communication Skills


The aim of 'supportive communication skills' is to help research team members to solve their own identified problem rather than solving it for them, thus giving them more ownership of the solution and making it more likely that they will implement it. The Research Team Leader becomes a facilitator rather than 'fount of all knowledge'. 

Supportive communication skills means:

  • Listen to what is being said rather than offer advice/guidance
  • Show interest by looking at the person, nodding agreement
  • Allow the person time and space to talk
  • Check your understanding by summarising and feeding back, or ask for clarification/more information
  • Encourage the person to speak freely, expressing their views and opinions
  • Accept that feelings may emerge unexpectedly and that it is ok for this to happen
  • Help underlying issues to be aired
  • Enable solutions to be raised and investigated
  • Try to identify the important aspects and not be distracted by lots of little issues
  • Facilitate the clarification of solutions and a timeframe for their implementation
  • If there is difficulty identifying solutions, using ‘incisive questions’ may resolve this. Incisive questions aim to ‘replace a limiting assumption with freeing one’ (Kline, 1999:54).
Example of an incisive question:

    ‘What might you be assuming that is stopping you from … ?’

    The responses enable a different, more supportive and positive way to look at the issue and identify previously unthought-of solutions

    The following is a tried and tested approach created by John Whitmore and is based on his GROW model (Whitmore, 2004). It puts the onus on the person seeking assistance to identify and resolve the situation while the other person acts as a facilitator.  It is a useful way to get research team members to explore and hopefully solve problems identified in their research, or even research career!  It can be used relatively informally, as a formal part of a project progress meeting or during a career development review. 

    The suggested questions can be used as a 'backbone' for discussion or answers can be written down as a prompt for further reflection, in a 'silent coaching' model.

    G: Goal

    The goal i.e. the identified problem  
    Suggested questions
    • Explain briefly the issue or problem that you are currently facing.
    • What are the outcomes that you wish to achieve? 
    • What is the timeframe for achieving these objectives?
    R: Reality
    • What is going on that makes this a problem?
    Suggested questions


    • What are the key factors that have led to the current situation?
    • What aspects do you personally have control over?
    • What actions have you taken so far?
    • What obstacles do you see in the way?
    • What resources would you need that are not already available?
    • Where could these resources realistically come from?
    • What really is the issue here? 
    • What is the root cause that makes this an issue?  
    O: Options
    • An idea storm of possible options (the idea is to generate ideas, not to sensor them at this stage) 
    Suggested questions


    • In what ways could you approach this issue?
    • Make a list of all possible options – large or small, realistic or bizarre
    • What else could you do?
    • What would be your ideal scenario?
    • What other suggestions can you make?
    • Grade each of the suggestions listed on a scale of 1-10 – one having the least appeal/impact, 10 having the most
    • Which of these actions appeals to you the most?
    • Which would have the most positive impact?  
    W: Will
    • What will you do? The action plan  
    Suggested questions


    • Which of the list of options do you choose to take action on?
    • Do these actions wholly meet your objectives?
    • What is your measurement for assessing this?
    • What is the timescale (start and finish) for doing these actions?
    • What obstacles might arise to hinder the completion of your actions?
    • What support do you need/require to undertake your chosen actions or overcome hindrances?
    • How will you obtain this support?
    • What commitment on a scale of 1-10 (1 = least, 10 = most) do you have to taking the identified actions?
    • What prevents your grading from being 10?
    • How can you raise the grade nearer to 10?  

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