Episode 006 – Dr. Laura Talks about Principles of Communication for Leaders

In this episode, we explore Dr. Laura’s experience as a communication professor at Ball State University and her work in both communication studies and community engagement. We highlight her work in Intercultural communication studies and her recent research with results that surprised her. 

Show Notes

In this podcast, you will learn about:

4:33 Dr. Laura describes Communication Studies

10:49 Dr. Laura talks about Intercultural Communications class and its importance as a foundational class for students

14:29 Dr. Laura talks about the primitive days of Service-Learning in higher education.

22:32 Dr. Laura shares one of her favorite classes was to teach.

23:57 Dr. Laura talks about the research project that surprised her the most.

29:04 Dr. Luara discusses how she stays fresh and relevant (as a tenured professor) on what is going on in the real world. 

32:46 Dr. Laura shares foundational communication lessons that every leader needs.

4:33 Dr. Laura describes Communication Studies

We are the building blocks for organizational success, interpersonal success, and intercultural success in that we all communicate, but it doesn’t mean we do it well. Communication studies are the experts in that field. We help guide our students, from freshman to graduate students.

Our field gives these folks fundamental tools for helping a group come to a decision. Simple tools to help them navigate when they are a stranger in a strange place. Fundamental skills for managing conflict with a teammate or a family member.

We have theoretically based practice tools on developing that side of a human being, an essential side of a human being. The ability to communicate appropriately and effectively and understand the context, who you are talking with, and your audience is so fundamental that very few people do them well. And that is what they do in the Communication Studies Department.

It takes excellent communication skills to listen to what people say and pull from them. Let people talk. Let them tell their story. Listen to them and convey to them that they matter.

10:49 Dr. Laura talks about Intercultural Communications class and its importance as a foundational class for students.

Intercultural Communications Class wasn’t even on most core curriculums until around 2010.  It wasn’t even in a curriculum very much until 1997 and 1998. As we move through the years, we see how important that skill is. The white male used to run the joint. So, all you had to learn was how the white male ran things. The white male isn’t running the joint anymore. And depending upon what study you look at, in fifteen to thirty years, they will become the minority.

Not just in terms of race but in the ability to span the globe in a second. We are talking with people all over the planet, we’ve got business with people all over the planet, and we are all invested as members in this planet and in keeping this planet.  There is a lot of talking to do with a lot of people who come from a lot of social backgrounds other than our own. So, if we think we have the truth and believe we have the right way, if we think we are the prettiest, the best, etc., we are deluding ourselves.

Understanding that there are so many ways of seeing the world, being in the world that we grew up with, is the key to listening and hearing others’ stories of what others have gone through. That is a big part of Intercultural Communication: listening, hearing, and trying to understand. We are trying to listen to people who have had different experiences than what we did and not just pretend that other people’s experiences are the same as ours.

14:29 Dr. Laura talks about the primitive days of Service-Learning in higher education.

She started with a few classes and tried to integrate Service Leaning in each of her classes. One of them was the “Conflict Learning Class” session at the Boys and Girls Club. And Micah helped her in a fundamental change in her thinking that she should have figured out but wasn’t thinking clearly about it. It’s this idea of “Hey, we are on this Ivory Tower Hill, and what we say, you should do in your organization, we’ve got the knowledge.

And so, we were doing a Boys and Girls Club project, the first time we were working with you and the kids. My students were going to do a consultation thing. And you said, “You know what? This is great, but I don’t want them to come and tell me what they need to do in my organization without them working in that organization and being a part of it.“ Because there was a tendency for these students to learn their theories and come into a panel of whatever an organization it was and say, “Here’s what we think you should do,” with limited knowledge of what’s occurring in the organization.

Then again, to get my students from their primarily upper-class privileged perspective, to be in a different kind of organization. Do they apply all these little conflict theories to the Conflict Class they’re learning here? I think not, and why not? So your admonition to me is that they don’t give you any kind of recommendation without them knowing the organization.

22:32 Dr. Laura shares one of her favorite classes was to teach.

She loves to teach project-based classes, like the Conflict Class and the two graduate classes.  One focused on training, and the other focused on consulting. She loves meeting with a student working on something, seeing them understand it, and seeing their product improve. She loves when they are happy at the end of their project and realize they did a good job or when the client raves about them. She is sitting side by side and helping the student develop, which are her favorite ones.

23:57 Dr. Laura talks about the research project that surprised her the most.

She loves the one she is currently working on right now, and it’s Mansplaining. It began several years ago working with a team of four. But because of Covid, they have not been able to continue their research until reviving it this summer.  Not only does she love the topic, but the form of their research team. A couple of people on the team would like to see them become full professors. They are all working together to help those folks working in the group get the number of publications they have to complete to become a full professor. It is also fun working on a team.

We interviewed 35 women in higher educational institutions and out to explore their experience with mansplainers. Our goal is to get eight publications out of it. It is a lot of work to get done with all the interviews. All of their interviews must be transcribed and then analyzed. That is a lot of time and intensive labor. But she loves all the different kinds of themes that are coming up. Some of the exciting things found in the research were how women dealt with tactics for Mansplaining. Some women use sarcasm; depending on who the man was, especially if it were their boss, they would make a joke or change the subject.

We had a significant category of all the different components of Mansplaining; what are the pieces and parts of Mansplaining? Does the man diminish you? Does the man have power over you in some way? One interesting one that came up was “imagined interactions.” After the fact, you are thinking back over the conversation you were engaged in, and you think about what you could have or should have said, or if I would have just said this, you have a play going on in your mind. That happens a lot with Mansplaining.

Many of the interviewed women were experts in their field, presenting at research conferences. And some horses patootie in the audience, usually a white male, not always, would heckle them because they believe they know it better than the expert,  even though that is not their area of research. And it happens down in front of a whole audience. It’s going to be great!

29:04 Dr. Luara discusses how she stays fresh and relevant (as a tenured professor) on what is going on in the real world.

In a classroom like Intercultural Communication, we came along in 2020, and George Floyd happens. So, she has been tiptoeing around the idea of race discussions. We were doing things like showing two films and then having a discussion. We can’t do that anymore. That’s not enough.  So, she brings in a book called, So, You Want to Talk About Race? By Ijeoma Oluo, a book about talking about race, they use that book because they have to learn how to talk about it. They are stumbling through it now, it’s not perfect, and many heads go down when she asks the question, but they have to keep talking about race.

Another example is to use books currently in use in the real world to complement the assigned textbook. Dr. Laura tries hard not to use stuff that is a hundred years old. “We have to stay current with what’s going on with the cultural scene.” So, she embraces using books that aren’t textbooks but best sellers in whatever the field is. They help her learn, and they keep her out of that “Professor who lives in a shoebox and comes out of the coo-coo clock, gives their little lecture, and goes back in.” Because they teach such a dynamic, innovative human communication of human life, staying relevant with the popular best sellers and using the textbook literature and academic literature is essential. The students love it because they can see that immediate relevance in their own lives.

32:46 Dr. Laura shares foundational communication lessons that every leader needs.

She believes a foundational thing for her is if she is talking to another leader or wanting to model leadership to that person or whoever you are mentoring, or student you are teaching, hearing about your failures and successes. When someone has done something wrong, instead of wagging a finger at them and telling them they did terribly or whatever, just say, “Look, I’m going to tell you a story about me.” (She tells a personal story when she was a junior). It allows that person to see that OMG! They really struggled, but they made it, and they did alright.

So, I think that is a crucial lesson for anybody struggling to hear. We need to hear that somebody else we feel has it all together learned from their failure, just as much as they did from success, probably more so. So, it is important to tell those stories and be willing to put your own stories and failures out there to show them backstage.

About Dr. Laura O’Hara

Although she is a native of St. Joseph, Mo., Laura has lived in Muncie for over 20 years and has adopted it as her “new hometown.” Laura enjoys her work at Ball State immensely—especially the teaching aspect. Laura teaches “intercultural communication,” a 200-level university core curriculum course, and “communication and conflict,” a senior-level capstone course at the undergraduate level. In addition, Laura teaches “training and development ” at the graduate level” and “consulting.” These courses are heavily immersive, which makes them challenging but very rewarding.

Laura has been recognized numerous times for excellence in teaching—most recently receiving Ball State University’s “Outstanding Teaching Award.” Laura also maintains an active research agenda, most recently delving into topics related to health communication, intercultural communication, and graduate education. One of Laura’s most recent publications earned a “Top Paper” designation in the Health Communication Division at the National Communication Association. Laura also enjoys the service aspect of her career, serving the Communication Studies Discipline at the national level, and serving Ball State at the university, college, and department levels.


  • Ph.D., Ohio University, 1998
  • M.A., Central Missouri University, 1994
  • B.A., Missouri Western State University, 1992

Episode Links: 

Dr. Laura’s Ball State University Bio