30 Aug 2022

ASA Traveling Course: Navigating Tough Conversations in Statistical Collaboration


The American Statistical Association (ASA) Hawaiʻi Chapter is hosting an ASA Council Chapters Traveling Course in collaboration with the Office of the University of Hawaiʻi (UH) Vice-Provost of Research and Education, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), Tropical Plant and Soil Science (TPSS), Hawaiʻi Data Science Institute, UH Cancer Center, and UH Hilo.


Tuesday, August 30, 2022 • Honolulu • Register for Honolulu Workshop

Wednesday, August 31, 2022 • Hilo • Register for Hilo Workshop

Instructors: Emily Griffith, Julia Sharp

Course abstract

Statistical practitioners face difficult conversations in their interactions with their clients and collaborators. The topics of these conversations vary widely, from completion timelines to the use and interpretation of p-values. While there are no universal guidelines for navigating tough conversations, thoughtful discussion about common experiences and lessons learned; reflection on differences among individuals and situations; and exercises such as role-playing can be helpful to prepare and build confidence for engaging in future tough conversations. In this course, we will build participants’ confidence to effectively communicate with clients and customers when challenging topics or situations arise. In this course, we will:

  • Give and solicit examples of difficult conversations often encountered in statistical collaboration.
  • Provide suggestions to approach and engage in these difficult conversations through multiple interactive activities, with a focus on leveraging participant strengths by using individual personalities and skills to have these conversations in participants’ own style.
  • Engage participants in the interactive session and learn from each other through discussion, role-playing, and conversations motivated by participants’ questions and recently produced videos portraying several difficult conversations between statisticians and their collaborators.

Course learning objectives

  • Build confidence for engaging in difficult conversations by improving skills for navigating these conversations, while respecting individual differences in communication strategies and professional settings and relationships.
  • Cultivate communication skills and strategies for having difficult conversations on both technical and professional topics with collaborators and clients.
  • Reflect on participant strategies for communication in the context of their career and their job’s expectations
  • Create a sense of community among participants and start to build a support network for continued discussion and reflection after the course.

Course outline

  • Welcome and Introductions: instructors & attendees
  • Conversation: A conversation among instructors and participants to define “difficult conversations”, share experiences, identify participants’ communication strengths, and how they currently manage challenging conversations. Some example conversation questions include: How do you define “difficult conversation”? What difficult conversations have you had in your work? Can you predict that a conversation with a collaborator will be difficult? What are your communication strengths? What do you do before the meeting to help yourself prepare for a conversation you expect will be difficult? Do you have professional support through colleagues to talk through experiences, either before or after?
  • We will also briefly discuss conflict resolution, implicit biases and intersectionalities relevant when communicating with others.
  • Short break
  • Focused Discussion: Explore specific scenarios through role-playing (script reading), discussion, and analyzing videos of meetings between a researcher and statistical collaborator. Three case-studies, covering different tough conversation topics, will be examined either through role-playing or viewing videos.
  • Closing Discussion: Answer remaining participant questions. Review and summarize strategies for effective communication through class discussion. Solicit feedback for course improvement.