Does Arts-Integrated Interdisciplinary Collaboration Require Special Communication Skills?


June 24, 2015

Mutual respect and understanding go a long way in the interdisciplinary space. In this regard, exercising fundamental communication skills is vital. Creativity, curiosity and problem solving are nurtured by tolerance for alternative points of view and comfort with ambiguity. Working towards understanding means that at times there will be friction among members of the team. Sometimes friction is productive and leads to consensus. When friction is unproductive, focus on “the work” can migrate to “the personal” so team members need to pay attention to the tenor of discourse so everyone stays focused on the work.

Interdisciplinary team members regularly look to each other for direction. When a problem arises they steer away from “my way” thinking” and look for a holistic “right way.” Interdisciplinary endeavors may focus on solving a single problem, but the process can yield more than one solution. It’s important to stay open to this possibility so the team can settle on what best serves the work. If one of the team members feels misunderstood it’s important to remember that people from diverse disciplines have different ways of looking at the same thing, but that is why members of the team have chosen to work together in the first place.

There will be times when someone on the team can’t integrate something that another team member brings to the process, and in some cases, will be in disagreement with what the majority are in agreement with. When this occurs it’s best that relevant parties ask clarifying questions, which reflect respective points of view. In a team setting, reflective discussion supports solution versus erroneous judgment. Knowing that your opinion as a team member may or may not be integrated into the work is a risk that arts-integrated interdisciplinarians are accustomed to taking. Incorporating this into one’s attitude and ways of approaching problem solving addresses a real world problem that continues to plague the human race; getting along.

This post shares lessons learned from the upcoming Mellon Best Practices Guide, which will be published in November. 

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