Published: Nov. 13, 2018
A person wearing a knit hat appears at a table facing a laptop, back to the camera.

As we near the end of the semester and finals stress sets in, you may encounter students who are overwhelmed or frustrated. Sometimes these feelings of frustration can be taken out on faculty or staff members, whether that be a classroom disruption or personal confrontation.

Here are some tips from Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution to help calm down frustrated students, de-escalate situations and keep a conversation moving forward productively.

Reasons a student may be frustrated

There are many reasons students may choose to escalate a conversation. Sometimes students get upset or angry when they have been trying to solve a problem and continuously experience frustration or failure due to an obstacle, challenge or miscommunication. They may feel powerless or that they have a lack of control over a situation.

Stress from other areas of life (e.g., finances, going home for the holidays, finding a job) may be causing feelings of being overwhelmed, and there may be a perceived inability to have their needs met.

Tips for de-escalating conflict

Here’s what you can do when engaging in conversation with a frustrated student to help de-escalate the situation:

  • An escalated person needs to be heard. Move the conversation to a more private space or ask if you can postpone the conversation until after class when there is time and space to be heard.
  • Let them vent or explain their grievance before responding.
  • Validate the student’s emotions but not the behavior. For example: “I can appreciate this wasn’t the answer you were expecting to hear today, and it seems like it’s very frustrating.”
  • Be aware of your tone and body language. Stay grounded and calm while using a relaxed tone, and avoid raising your voice.
  • Try to meet the student where they are. Plan ahead of time where you’re willing be flexible or compromise with the student.
  • Can you do something small to help the student feel they are being heard and/or supported? Perhaps printing a form for them that they would otherwise be expected to print on their own.
  • Ask for help when needed—sometimes bringing in another staff member can help the student hear the information differently.

When to get help

If a student is using threatening body language, making physical body contact or using oppressive or derogatory language toward you, do not try to de-escalate the situation on your own. If you ever feel unsafe in a situation, leave and call the CU Police Department.

For more tips on de-escalating conflict, Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution is available to assist with consultations or referrals.