Published: Feb. 6, 2020
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College is often a time for students to explore their independence and create their own identities as they transition into adulthood. As students navigate new experiences, they may come across challenges they haven’t had to face in the past and ask for your guidance.

As we support our students through new situations, we may find ourselves having important (or uncomfortable) conversations. It’s important that we communicate our thoughts and views with respect and be willing to consider what our students have to say.

Here are some quick tips to help you navigate important conversations with your student:

Starting an important conversation

Plan ahead

Sometimes you may be the one to start a tough conversation with your student. When this is the case, preparing for the conversation in advance can be helpful. Planning ahead assures you are able to share your views and hear your student’s perspective more effectively. Take a few minutes to consider these questions:

  • What do you hope to accomplish from this conversation?
  • What would be an ideal outcome?
  • How might this conversation affect your relationship?
  • How will you know when it’s time to take a break?
  • What assumptions are you making about how your student will respond or feel?

Before going into a potentially stressful conversation, it’s important to check-in with ourselves about what we’re expecting and what might realistically happen, so we can prepare emotionally.

If you’re not the one to initiate the conversation, it can be helpful to ask for time to pull your thoughts together before engaging with your student. Make a plan and pick a time when you both can talk. This will help you feel more prepared, and the conversation won’t catch you off guard.

Working through a tough conversation

Pick a quiet time

It may be difficult to start a tough conversation. Choosing a quiet area to talk, finding a time that works for all parties, explaining why you want to have this conversation and sharing what you hope will come of it can all make for a better interaction.

De-escalate or take a break

When we have tough conversations, they can become heated or escalate more than we might have expected. When this happens, it may even lead you to say something that you regret. In these situations, de-escalating is an important tool to bring everyone back to the facts. Reiterate why this conversation is important and that you value the other person.

If the volume ticks up, use your own voice to bring it back down; if you find yourself getting frustrated, take a moment and breathe before speaking again. If need be, ask to take a break and return to the conversation after everyone has time to cool off. Perhaps everyone needs to take a short walk, have a snack or get a good night’s sleep.

Moving forward

Reflect and follow up if needed

While it would be nice, change doesn’t happen overnight. Conversations don’t always resolve the way we’d like, and more often than not, seeing progress requires a series of conversations and a willingness to keep trying. If things feel like they’re unresolved, let the person know that you appreciate their time and you’d like to follow up with them in the future. Give them some time and space before engaging again. If things are resolved more quickly, share your appreciation and gratitude with the other person and let them know you value their help and input.

Resources

If you’re concerned about your student, please reach out to one of the following resources.

Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS)

CAPS provides resources for crisis management as well as referral options if you’re concerned about a student.

Student Support and Case Management (SSCM)

SSCM works with students to help them connect with resource and services on campus to address their needs and goals. You can also submit an online referral if you’re concerned about a student.

CU Boulder Police (CUPD)

CUPD provides on-campus welfare checks on students who may pose a threat to themselves or others, or students who are currently experiencing a mental health crisis. If you’re concerned about a student and would like to request a welfare check, please call 303-492-6666.