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Communicating Effectively

Navigating difficult conversations

Often, interpersonal issues can be addressed directly with the other person without the involvement of a third party.  When preparing for difficult conversations, some questions to think about include:

  • How can I approach this person?
  • Do they usually schedule appointments, or talk with people informally in the lab, or before or after class?
  • Are they generally more receptive to talking with people in the morning or afternoon? (Some people prefer to get "right to work" in the morning and are more approachable later in the day, or vice versa.)
  • Is there a way to frame my concern so that (s)he will not be defensive?
  • For what part of my concern might I be responsible? Or might (s)he think I am (at least partly) responsible?
  • Are there things I can offer in our discussion to show that I am truly interested in resolving the situation, and not just complaining about it?

If you are uncertain about how to approach the person, you may consider consulting a colleague, friend or other trusted advisor in addition to the ombudsperson about ways in which you can approach and discuss your situation with the person involved.

Be prepared. Whether you decide to speak first to the person directly involved, take the matter to another university official, or come to the ombuds office, it always helps to be as prepared as you can be in explaining the situation. Sometimes it helps to organize thoughts if you write out a brief timeline of events or summary of the situation. Gather all documents related to the situation and bring them with you to your appointment. Similarly, keep good records and notes of conversations that you have with people as you try to resolve your situation.

Do some research. In many situations, there are rules and policies that exist at the university which may govern your concern. Ask questions about what the rules or policies are and spend some time on the web and elsewhere researching them yourself. Be sure to ask about any deadlines that exist for filing appeals or grievances.

If your efforts to resolve your situation have been unsuccessful, or you are having difficulty determining how best to resolve your issue, you can contact the ombuds office to meet with the ombudsperson.

Try to remain optimistic. The good news is that there are almost always several options that can be explored and decisions that you can make to change your situation.