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Cal State Fullerton Researcher Shows How Using Your Voice Builds Resilience

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Jessica Kamrath, Cal State Fullerton assistant professor of human communication studies, says resilience is not simply a trait or a skill. She has found that building resilience is an ongoing process that takes time and involves practicing a range of communication skills.

Kamrath’s course at CSUF, “Communication and the Art of Happiness,” examines the impact that language and communication behaviors have on creating and maintaining happiness and well-being. Part of the coursework involves redefining and cultivating resilience using “growth mindset messages,” which is a way to approach intellectual ability as something that can be grown or developed over time.

“Resilience is one of those buzz terms that’s been defined in a lot of different ways,” Kamrath said. “In a communicative context, resilience means to reframe challenges, perceive them positively, and overcome those challenges.”

Kamrath said language and discourse are powerful tools that can shape how humans think, act and behave in any situation.

“We practice and critically reflect on resilience in order to discover or even unlearn how we can communicatively construct resilience. And, how the dominant definitions we have been using constrain us,” Kamrath said.

After interviewing public high school teachers and staff members in southeast Arizona in 2018 — just prior to Arizona’s #RedforEd teacher strike — Kamrath determined that resilience is a reciprocal process cultivated in language and through communication behaviors.

Three key findings that can help individuals and organizations improve their ability to work through challenges are:

  • Being Open to Feedback and Reflection

It is important to reflect on and process lived experiences, and to be flexible and adapt to different situations. These tools, like journal writing or group discussions, help to positively perceive current challenges. 

  • Human Interaction

Sharing ideas, collaboration and venting thoughts and emotions are some of the ways strengthening relationships forms resilience. There is so much value and power in processing challenges through human connection and bonding, Kamrath said.  

  • Bigger Purpose

‘Bigger purpose’ motivates individuals and organizations to advance through challenges, Kamrath said. ‘Bigger purpose’ calls on them to understand their core beliefs and the impact they want to have on their communities.