Have a positive two-way conversation

Make and keep a face-to-face appointment

There's no substitute for problem solving in person. With enough time and no distractions, often two people can work things through more creatively and constructively than either could have figured out how to do alone.

TIP: Don't just stop by or try to talk in a public place. Your problem deserves the other person's full attention. And you're not as likely to get a positive response if the other person feels blindsided, embarrassed, or rushed.

EXAMPLE: If something happened in class, don't try to talk about that while still in the classroom. Your instructor may be packing to go or answering other students' questions. Instead, just ask for a private appointment time.

TIP: Use email or the phone to make an appointment, not to make your points. It may seem efficient (and less confrontational) not to meet in person. But it's also easier to misunderstand or misread communications that don't come complete with nonverbal expression. Long voicemail or email messages can come off as annoying or harassing; and short ones can be incomplete. So, it's always best to have the opportunity for full (and fully human) give and take. When you do email, be sure to sign with your full name, student number, and class info.

TIP: Bring someone else to observe, but you should speak for yourself. If you're nervous about a meeting, it might help to have someone else come with you to take notes and to provide moral support. But if that person is also taking your side and jumping into the conversation, then the person you're there to speak with may feel ganged up on or just not be as open. If more than one person has a problem, you still want to try to solve yours alone, not get everyone else's mixed in, because your problems probably aren't identical, so each might need its own solution.

TIP: Show up on time (or call in advance to cancel). Being considerate can set the stage for a successful meeting of the minds. Being rude about the other person's time may make it hard for that person to feel sympathetic about your problem.

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Talk AND listen

Remember that there are always two sides to every story. You want dialog, not an argument, so be ready to start out by explaining your position and request, but don't try to dominate the conversation. Sometimes you might find that a rule or policy prevents you getting exactly the outcome that you have in mind. But some discussion may lead to another solution.

TIP: Don't expect to get the answer you want immediately. Be ready to hear about alternatives and understand why the other person may want to negotiate or compromise. Being patient can have its rewards.

TIP: Let the other person know what paperwork you have. You don't want to get into a "he said/she said" exchange, if you can help it. Sharing this info also will encourage the other person to take your problem seriously. Having paperwork may also demonstrate your intent to pursue the concern at higher levels if you don't reach a satisfactory resolution.

TIP: Allow the other person some time to respond. Whether the person you're talking to is surprised by what you have to say or was expecting to hear it, you still need to allow some time for whatever is your take on things to sink in. So, after briefly explaining your problem and what you'd like to see happen, invite the other person to respond.

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Take notes

Remembering what's been said may be harder than you think. A problem-solving conversation can be stressful, so taking notes also can help to keep you calm and prevent the conversation from moving more quickly than might be comfortable for you. Seeing you taking notes also may encourage the person to take the conversation more seriously.

If you take your problem to the next level, you'll need to give a full report. The first thing you're likely to be asked is what the previous person had to say. Having notes will reassure the next person you speak to that their input really is needed. Being able to read from or share your notes also can make your conversations get to the point more quickly.

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Keep your cool

It's easy to start a chain reaction. Although you may well feel that your emotions are justified and that you have a right to express them, people read emotions differently. If you escalate, the other person might escalate, too. If you frighten someone or even just make them feel uncomfortable or guilty, they may become too busy dealing with their own responses to have the emotional bandwidth to listen to you and understand where you're coming from.

An outburst could cause new problems for you. There is a student code of conduct that applies. You wouldn't want to end up having your original concern or complaint get you in trouble, because of how you handled it.

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Summarize and ask about next steps

Make sure you're on the same page. You don't want to walk out of your meeting without nailing down any agreements that you've reached. Even if you end a conversation without having resolved your problem, you still want to confirm any compromises or alternatives that the other person has offered as possibilities.

Find out if there's something more that you need to do. Around here, it often takes a form or a trip to One Stop to make things happen. The other person may agree to a solution, but that doesn't mean that he or she is responsible for any required paperwork or notifications.

TIP: Ask how long it will take to get a response. Possibly, the person you're talking to may need to check with someone else, review some documents, or do something else before being able to make a final decision. Even after a decision is made, it might take a while before you see the results. Meanwhile, you might start worrying that your problem has fallen into a black hole. Better to ask up front how long you should expect to wait.

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