Responding Effectively to Students and Coworkers

Displaying the Positive Space symbol may open the door to discussions, expressions of concern and requests for advice that you might not otherwise receive.  For example, a student concerned that one of their instructors is making homophobic remarks in class might come to you for advice on options.  A gay co-worker who is feeling excluded in their work environment might feel they can discuss the issue with you safely.  These situations may challenge you in new ways in your relationships with students and co-workers.

To meet this challenge it is important to practice effective communication and listening skills, as well as to be knowledgeable of institutional and community resources in order to make appropriate referrals.

The following are some guidelines that may assist you when interacting with others:

  • Pay attention to your body language.  Approximately 90% of the message is in how it is delivered, rather than the actual words used.  Facing a person, giving them your undivided attention, and positive facial expression and body stance are essential.
  • Let people express themselves fully before you respond. 
  • Let people take their own time.  They may be sounding you out to see if they can trust you.  Ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to guide and control the discussion.
  • Ask questions and summarize to ensure that you understand what is being communicated to you and what the person is asking of you.
  • Empathize, don’t sympathize.  Empathy is demonstrating that you understand the feelings of another person.  Sympathy is expressing feelings of pity or sorrow for someone else’s situation.
  • Understand that often listening is the most important thing you can do.  People do not come to you expecting you to solve their problem but wanting to be heard and possibly to get another’s perspective.
  • When asked for advice, provide options for action or for gaining more information, not answers.  Remember that there is no “correct” answer that is right for everyone.
  • Realize that not every issue has a solution.  Sometimes there really is nothing that can be done except to help another person deal with the emotions they are experiencing.
  • Make referrals to others as requested and as appropriate. 

Our individual skills, experience, and institutional role will impact our comfort level in dealing with more challenging situations.  Remember that you are not being asked to act as a counsellor or support person.  Pay attention to your own boundaries and comfort level and refer to others as appropriate.