Sometimes problems can be resolved with some “front end” effort on your own behalf. Try following these steps when dealing with university offices. If you don't succeed.
Don’t be bashful about calling university offices for help, and don't be afraid to ask questions. When asking, seek to understand, not to challenge.
Be prepared. Write down your questions before contacting a university office. Have all the information and documentation available that you may need in your discussion.
Clarify your own thinking: What outcomes do you want? Are there other options that may be acceptable, even if not your first choice?
Be pleasant. Treat university employees, as you like to be treated. Getting angry or rude will not resolve your problem. It may only confuse the real issues.
Keep good records and take notes. Ask for the names and titles of employees you talk with, and note the date of the conversation. Save all your letters and receipts. Ask the person or office to help you understand why they acted as they did. Ask employees to identify the rules, policies, or laws that governed their actions. Ask for copies.
Talk to the right people. The first employee you meet may not make or be able to change policy. If you cannot resolve the matter, ask to talk with a supervisor. Ask questions until you understand what happened and why.
Read carefully all information available to you. Many university decisions may be appealed, but there are often specific criteria and deadlines. Be sure to follow appeal rules and meet deadlines.
(Adapted from “Before You Call” by Laurie McCann.
University of California, Santa Cruz. Used with permission.)
Tips for Transforming Conflict
By choosing to deal with conflict in a non-adversarial manner, we create a place where it is safe to disagree and contribute to transforming the way the world deals with conflict.
Accept that conflicts are a natural part of life: Many people share resources and space on this planet yet have vastly different cultures, histories and norms. Conflict is the natural result of differences in the world.
Treat conflict as an opportunity: Conflicts don't have to be destructive. Instead we can view conflict as an opportunity to grow, learn and improve relationships.
Be aware of your initial reaction and take a deep breath: Instead of giving in to an initial impulse to jump in and escalate the conflict, it's useful to pause and think about your approach.
Choose your approach: If you determine that the conflict is worth addressing, remember that you can choose between a win-lose approach - where we focus on each other as the problem - and a mutual gains approach - where we work together to identify separate and mutual need and interests.
Listen and learn: Conflicts are often based on stereotypes and lack of information-ask questions and listen until we truly understand each other's point of view. Truly hearing and being heard can actually transform a conflict.
Discover what's important: We tend to have disagreements over our positions-the way we see things or what we want. But we seldom talk about our interests and needs-the reasons why our positions are important to us. Often there is some overlap in interests and needs-the common ground where we are likely to find solutions.
Respect each other: An agreement can only hold if the parties grow to respect and trust one another. We need to take responsibility for our role in the conflict - blaming creates resentment and anger.
Find common ground: Finding common ground does not mean settling for the lowest common denominator. Finding common ground is creating a new "highest common denominator" by identifying something we can all work towards together.
Be creative: There are always many different ways to solve a problem - many different strategies by which to meet a need. The goal is to make sure we address the deep issues (not just the superficial symptoms) and generate as many options as possible.
(Adapted by University of California at Santa Cruz Ombuds from "Search for Common Ground", www.sfcg.org. Used with permission.)
Three Keys to Effective Communication
What you say and how you say it
Use neutral language. Describe what you saw or heard. What sights and sounds would a video cam have recorded? "Edit out" any judgment, criticism or interpretation of what was seen or heard.
Own the message. I feel, I wish, I hope, I would like to ask. Let the conversation be about your needs or values, not what is (perceived to be) wrong with the other person, or what that person did or did not do.
What you hear and how you hear it
Try to empathize with what the other person is feeling. By offering empathy you are simply creating a connection with the person - not stating that you agree with what was done or said.
Acknowledge and make sure you understand the information being given to you. It's often helpful to repeat what you heard to make sure you got it right.
What you do with the information
Seek to understand the interests (needs, values, wants) of the other person. Ask for help in understanding why they are important to him or her.
Search for common ground and a better future. Focus on what is desirable and possible now - you can't negotiate the past.
(Adapted from “Three Keys to Effective Communication” by Laurie McCann,University of California, Santa Cruz. Used with permission.)
How to Move from Conflict to Cooperation
Behaviors that escalate conflict:
Negative labeling, insulting, or calling the other party offensive names. Example: "You are a liar."
Minimizing or ignoring the other's feelings. Example: "Frankly, I don't care if you are upset!"
Lying about, denying, or misrepresenting information known to the other party.
Blaming the other for the problem with "you" statements. Example: "You make me mad when you forget to lock the door when you leave the office!"
Communicating condescension. Example: "You mean to tell me that you are just now figuring that out?"
Questioning the other party's honesty, integrity, intelligence, or competence. Example: "How do you expect me to trust you this time?"
Making offensive or hostile non-verbal expressions or gestures. Example: rolling the eyes, loud sighs, laughing, "giving the finger," sticking one's tongue out at the other, or groaning when the other party speaks.
Making interpretations of what the other party says based on stereotypes or prejudicial beliefs. Example: "All you people ever think about is how you can avoid working!"
Insisting that the other party "admit to being wrong." Example: "This is not about my perceptions of what happened I saw you take my disk and you damn well better admit it!"
Using sarcasm in addressing the other party. Example: "Well, how nice of you to grace us with your presence. I'm shocked!"
Making moral judgments about the other party. Example: "The Lord will punish you for these sins!"
Making threats to the other party. Example: "You'd better stick to your word or I'm going to talk with the boss about your behavior!"
Making demands of the other party. Example: "I demand that you write me a letter of apology."
Refusing to shake hands with the other party when he/she offers. Example: at the beginning of the mediation session.
Interrupting the other party when he/she is speaking.
Shouting at the other party.
Behaviors that reduce conflict:
Using "I" statements, rather than "you" statements. Example: "I want to respond to your questions, but I need some time to calm down first."
Conveying that the disputant has been listening attentively. Example: "It sounds as if your biggest concerns are for your long-term job security and recognition for your accomplishments. Is that right?"
Making "appropriate" eye-contact. Note: This one is extremely culturally dependent. The key issue is for Disputant A to make eye contact with Disputant B in a way that is comfortable for Disputant B.
Expressing a desire to see both parties get as much of what they want as possible from mediation. Example: "I'd like to see both of us walk out of here happy."
Acknowledging responsibility for part of the problem whenever possible. Example: "You know, I hadn't seen it before, but I think I did make some mistakes in the way I approached you."
Acknowledging the other party's perceptions whenever possible. Example: "I haven't considered this matter from that perspective before, but I think I can see how it looked that way to you."
Identifying areas of agreement with the other party whenever possible - especially if he/she does not recognize that such areas of agreement exist. Example: "You know, Conrad, I agree with you that we ought to make time management more of a priority for our office in the future."
Allowing the other party to "let off steam." Note: This requires extreme self-control, but if the other party has not expressed him/herself previously, this can be extremely valuable.
Avoiding assumptions. Example: "Could you help me understand why having these specific days off is so important to you?"
Indicating that the other party "has a good point" when he/she makes a point you believe has merit. Example: "You're absolutely right about x."
(Adapted from “Eliciting Cooperation” by Tom Sebok, University of Colorado, Boulder. Used with permission.)
Elements of an Effective Apology
An apology is a powerful means of reconciliation and restoring trust. However, sometimes even a well-intentioned apology can exacerbate a conflict. It may be helpful to consider what elements to include in a statement of apology to make it most effective and constructive.
Not all elements apply to all situations. Some of the most common considerations include the following:
A common understanding of the exact substance and nature of the offense, or perceived offense. (Example: “Yesterday on the telephone, I said….”)
Recognition of responsibility or accountability on the part of the one who offended. (Example: “I could have chosen other words.” “I spoke without thinking.”)
Acknowledgement of the pain or embarrassment that the offended party experienced. (Example: “It’s understandable that was upsetting to you.” “If someone had said that to me, I would not have liked it, either.” But not, “I’m sorry you’re so easily hurt.”)
A judgment about the offense. (Example: “I was insensitive.” “What I did was wrong.”)
A statement of regret. (Example: “I’m sorry I used those words.”)
An indication of future intentions. (Example: “In the future, I will try to think about the impact of my words before speaking.” “I hope we can have a relationship of mutual respect.”)
Sometimes it is helpful to include an explanation of why the perceived offender acted in this way, but it’s important not to reiterate the offense or to give a flippant excuse or defensive justification. (Example: “What I did was a poor attempt at humor.” But not, “When I’m mad, I can say anything but I don’t really mean it.”)
The circumstances of the apology are also important, and should be carefully planned. Many people appreciate a written apology, because it implies time and effort put into this step toward reconciliation. Some people who have been offended want an opportunity to state the intensity of their pain or embarrassment directly to the offender. Some people would appreciate a face-to-face apology, and a chance to shake hands or otherwise take the next step toward improved future relations. Some people who apologize want an acknowledgement that the apology has been received, or that the offender is forgiven.
When To Write A Letter Some university policies require writing a petition or an appeal letter. In addition, a letter is sometimes the most effective way to express what you want to say. When talking to someone, using e-mail, or filling out a form haven't worked or aren't practical, try writing a letter. If you have a choice don't use email - send a hard copy letter to the recipient.
Format The elements of a typical business letter are the following:
name and address of person to whom you are writing
body of letter (the message)
signature line (be sure to sign your letter)
name and contact information of sender
list of enclosure(s) (e.g., documentation, receipts, copies of earlier correspondence, etc.) and names of other persons receiving a copy of your letter.
Model Letter The model letter below uses all the elements from the list above. The overall layout is a matter of personal choice, as is the decision to include a phone number and e-mail address. Note that the text of the model letter is exceptionally brief. Most appeal and request letters require a page or two.
January 3, 2006
Dr. Jonathan Doe Department of _____ 123 Aloha Hall University of Hawaii at Manoa Honolulu, HI 96822
Dear Dr. Doe:
I am writing to request a special examination in Course 101. On December 12, the date of the regularly scheduled exam, I have to appear in court as a witness. I enclose a copy of the court summons. A make-up exam in Course 101 has already been scheduled for January 6. Thank you for taking the time to consider my request. Please contact me by e-mail or phone if you have any questions.
Lee A. Student Student ID No. 123-45-6789 123 College Street Honolulu, HI 96822 email@example.com, 345-7890, fax 345-8901
encl.: Court summons cc: Dr. Margaret Jones, Chair
Content & Tone While the appearance of a letter is important, the content and tone will determine whether the letter really does its job. Review any relevant policy and pay particular attention to what the decision maker needs to know to consider an appeal or request. That information should be included in your letter. Leaving out essential information may delay a response or even result in your appeal or request being denied.
Opening Statement The first sentence or two should state the purpose of the letter clearly:
"I am writing to appeal the disciplinary sanctions arising from my alleged involvement in the bonfire party that took place in the dorm courtyard on Friday, October 23 . . ."
"I am writing to request that the requirement of Course 123 for the X major be waived in view of my work on an independent research project (Course 499) directed by Professor Wilkinson last quarter . . ."
Be Factual Include factual detail but avoid dramatizing the situation:
"In late October I was diagnosed with tonsillitis. I was sick for over a week and missed most of my mid-term exams."
(not "In late October after feeling really sick for a few days, I finally dragged myself to Student Health . . .")
Be Specific If an appeal or request depends on particular facts which the decision maker will want to verify, be specific:
"I missed the mid-term on January 23, because I flew to Seattle on January 19 for my grandfather's funeral and returned on January 26. I enclose the airline receipt and can provide further corroboration if that would be helpful."
(not "I had to attend to family business out of town, so I missed the test . . .")
Documentation Include any documentation required by policy or needed to substantiate your claims. This may include previous correspondence, receipts, draft copies, etc. If documentation is being sent by a third party, state that fact and give details:
"Dr. Atkinson, my physician, agreed last week to write to you about this matter . . ."
Stick To The Point Don't clutter your letter with information or requests that have no essential connection to the main message.
(not "I am writing to request a meeting to discuss my term paper. I was born in Ohio and attended high school in the State of Washington, where my family moved when I was 6 . . .")
Don't Be Manipulative Threatening, cajoling, begging, pleading, flattering, and making extravagant promises are manipulative and are usually ineffective. In fact, they may alienate the reader.
(not "It will kill my aging mother, who has been in poor health for years, to learn that you have barred me from enrolling for the next year. I have always admired you. If you give me a chance to enroll next quarter, I promise to work really hard, get rich, and donate a million dollars to the university . . .")
How To Talk About Feelings It is tempting to overstate the case when something is important to us. When feelings are a legitimate part of a message, own the feeling and state it as a fact:
"When I saw my grade, I was very disappointed."
(not "When I learned you had given me an F in your class, I realized my life was ruined . . .")
Be Brief It is more work to write a good short letter than a long one. Busy decision makers appreciate the extra effort.
Avoid Errors A letter will make a better impression if it is typed, free of spelling and grammar mistakes, free of slang, and enclosed in the right size of envelope.
However, it is much more important to MEET DEADLINES and state the purpose clearly than to submit a letter which is completely error-free.
Keep Copies!! Until - and possibly for some time after - a matter is settled, keep copies of all letters sent or received, as well as relevant documents, forms, and receipts.
(Adapted from "Writing an Effective Appeal or Request Letter," by Frances Bauer,University of Western Ontario. Used with permission.)
Survival Tips for Undergraduate Students
Save Everything Keep copies of all official documents you send and receive [fee receipts, identification cards, advising worksheets, course syllabi, petitions, financial aid information, etc.]. Document everything that might come back to haunt you. If you're in doubt about whether you need to document your actions or conversations, err on the side of too much. It just might help you solve a big problem down the road.
Read Everything/Be Informed Carefully read Ka Leo, your course syllabus, receipts, and all other information you receive from the university regarding housing, registration, financial aid, loans, etc. You are responsible for knowing university policies and deadlines.
Be informed about your debt. Keep track of what you owe and why. This may seem self-evident, but it is easy to forget. Losing track of the debt you owe, the deadlines, and the reasons for your debt are a good recipe for increasing the debt itself in avoidable ways.
Ask Questions Why was my request denied?What rule or policy applies?Are there exceptions to the rule?Is there any appeal process?Ask for the names and titles of employees you talk with.Ask why the person or office acted as they did.Ask for copies of policies or records that are relevant to your situation.Ask questions until you understand what happened and why.When checking your status with a University office, ask to have your particular file checked. This can help to catch problems that might otherwise go undetected.
Clarify the Problem/Be Prepared
Before you contact a university office, take some time to simplify your complaint, decide what the main issue is and what action you are seeking.
Write down your questions before contacting a university office.
Have the information and documentation available that you may need in your discussion.
Collect relevant information from a variety of sources [counselors, instructors, etc.]
Be sure you communicate your needs to instructors, staff, and administrators; they will not know unless you tell them, so be specific.
Save steps by calling ahead for walk-in hours or to make an appointment.
If you do not know who to ask or how to find what you are looking for, ask the Ombuds Office.
Know the Channels The first employee you meet may not make or be able to change policy. If you cannot resolve the matter, ask to talk with a supervisor. It is important to understand university policies and the channels you must go through to resolve your problems.
For example, if you have a grade dispute with an instructor, discuss the matter with the instructor first. If your situation is not resolved at this stage, the next step is to talk with the department chair. At this point, if nothing has been accomplished, you may think about filing an Academic Grievance. (Link here to academic grievance info on our site.)
Don't Procrastinate "Oh I'll handle it at the end of the quarter" is a common thought that many students have when a conflict arises with the university. In most cases, the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to resolve your problem. Many university decisions may be appealed, but there are deadlines. Be sure to follow appeal guidelines and meet deadlines.
If you wish to withdraw from a course, make sure you go through the withdrawal procedure.
Be Courteous and Persistent Try to remain civil and avoid blame and personal attacks. Everyone appreciates being treated courteously. Getting angry or rude will not resolve your problem. It may only confuse the real issues. Don't give up if you do not immediately get the response you are seeking. Ask to speak to a supervisor, if necessary.
(Adapted from “PSU Survival Tips”. Portland State University.Used with permission.)
Survival Tips for Graduate Students
Undergraduates often deal with their professor problems by letting them slide or by severing any future ties with that prof. You may have done this yourself when you were an undergrad. Maybe you had an instructor who was unfair or a bad teacher, so you dropped the course, or you decided just to get through the course and never take another class from that person again. If these strategies work for undergrads—and sometimes they do—it’s because they did not need to continue their relationship with that professor. The student could say, “good bye and bad luck.”
But for graduate students these strategies are far, far less effective. In graduate studies it is much more likely that you will want to maintain a relationship with a faculty member and therefore much less likely that you can deal with the problem by cutting yourself off from that person. Often the person who you are having trouble with is the very person that you need most. That person may be your dissertation adviser, a thesis committee member, your work supervisor, or the department chair. Think of this situation as a troubled marriage where divorce is not a good option. With that in mind, here are some survival tips that help you to prevent trouble and to deal effectively with trouble when it comes along.
Get to know your department secretaries and treat them with consideration and respect.
Think of your relationship with faculty members, especially those you want to continue to work with, as partnerships and take the initiative in keeping these relationships productive.
Early in your relationships with these people, meet in person to establish expectations about progress, feedback, and deadlines. Also discuss how and how often you will communicate. It is a good idea not to rely only on e-mail.
Use your initiative to get clarity about your progress and the quality of your work. Don’t waste time trying to read between the lines. When in doubt about how well you are doing, ask. Don’t assume that you will be told without asking. Getting bad news that is definitive is better than getting vague news that keeps you floating in graduate study miasma forever and ever.
Consider sending to your faculty member summaries of meetings where these issues were discussed.
If you are having any kind of trouble that affects your work, explain your situation. Keep in contact. Disappearing from the scene just makes things worse.
Get help and advice from other students and faculty members in your department. If you are having a problem with your dissertation adviser, try to get another member of your committee to help.
Sometimes things might just not be working out at all even if you use the tips we suggest. In that caseget help elsewhere. If it’s that bad, it’s not going to go away by itself, and guess who suffers most when that happens? Two good sources of help: the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies and the UH at Manoa Ombuds Office.
Dealing with Really Stressful or Unstable Workplace Situations
THE SHORT TERM: The Current Workplace
Assert control over the aspects of your job you can control.
Make plans to support reasonable productivity: Identify ways to manage your time to balance various aspects of your responsibilities, define tasks in “bite-size” portions and accomplish something each day, keep a list of your accomplishments, reward yourself for meeting modest goals.
Consider all possible options for improving the day-to-day work situation: Enhance communication, build bridges, negotiate priorities in duties, explore possible changes to job description or reporting relationships.
Explore whatever complaint channels or grievance procedures may be available.
Consider time off, vacation days, a “cooling off period” or stress-relief holiday.
THE LONG TERM: Career Planning
Consider a wait-and-see approach to aspects of the work situation you cannot control. A focus on your values and future objectives can help to put present difficulties into perspective.
Begin to plan for possible alternatives (even if you will not have to implement your back-up plans): Revise your resume, line up positive references, check job postings, attend conferences, explore training programs, and network.
Engage in self-exploration: What are your strengths and weaknesses? What parts of present and past jobs did you like most and least? What kinds of work are you best suited for? Where would you like to be 5 or 10 years from now? What steps might you take to achieve these long-term goals?
Consider other aspects of your work-life balance: What activities or pastimes would you like to have more time for? What new challenges would you like to take on? What is the “silver lining” of change for you?
Consider working with a career coach or joining a career-counseling program.
THE PERSONAL: Taking Care of Yourself
When people are under stress, or feeling uncertain, or impacted by changes beyond their control, they need lots of support.
Spend quality time with your family, phone an old friend who lives far away, arrange pleasant outings with people who care about you, ask for support, be open to receiving caring gestures from others.
Consider seeing a psychotherapist, or talking confidentially with a clergy person.
Indulge in the pleasure principle: Get a massage, eat your favorite foods, take a weekend trip to a beautiful place, and get some exercise you enjoy.
There’s more to life than your job: Start a new hobby, register for a film series or go to a free concert, plant a garden or a window box, take a kid to the zoo, sign up for a community service project, plan a birthday party for a good friend, paint your bedroom a lovely color, adopt a pet, donate blood, sign up for a yoga class, plan a vacation trip, learn to cook ethnic food.
Remember you are a person with many talents and strengths and much to give.
Meetings How is a meeting like an airplane? They both need to be carefully designed to get you where you want to go.
The purpose of a most meetings is to move a group of people from one place to another in a safe and preferably enjoyable fashion without losing anyone along the way. However, certain critical elements need to be in place before take off to ensure a successful trip and a safe landing. Sitting in a poorly designed and/or poorly facilitated meeting is like sitting in a rickety airplane with an unclear destination - both are very frustrating and a big waste of time.
Would you board a plane under the following conditions?
The destination is described as “somewhere in the general vicinity of Boston.”
The passengers are not sure why they are on this plane.
The aircraft does not have effective radar for direction finding.
The aircraft does not have mechanisms for dealing with unexpected turbulence.
The flight crewmembers are not clear about their respective roles and responsibilities.
There may not be enough fuel to land the plane. If you’re not sure you would get on a plane under these conditions, good! You may also want to create a higher standard for the meetings you call and/or participate it.
Effective Meetings -- Use Your OARRs Outcomes: Be clear about what you want to accomplish in the meeting. What specific, measurable results need to be in hand before you walk out the door? “If you don’t know where you’re going, any map will do!” Don’t let goals substitute for outcomes. Agenda: Divide agenda items into short discussions/reports and longer conversations/dialogues. Assign time limits to each item. If you go over the time allowed for a certain item, check with the group about whether to stay with the current item or move on. Review the agenda with the whole group before the meeting begins. Roles & Responsibilities: Typical roles are facilitator, recorder, timekeeper, leader and participants. An impartial facilitator is optimal because his/her presence allows all members of the group to participate fully. If you don’t have an impartial facilitator, consider rotating the facilitator role among several people. When possible have the recorder use flip charts to track key ideas, decisions and outcomes; and compile notes (not formal minutes) at the end for a functional meeting record. Rules: Simple agreements to help make the meeting productive. Typical ground rules include: Start and end on time, hold one conversation at a time, honor diverse points of view, don’t interrupt, speak openly and honestly, everyone participates. Post and review agreements at the beginning of the meeting; revise as appropriate.
(Adapted from “Designing and Facilitating Effective Meetings” by Laurie McCann,University of California, Santa Cruz. Used with permission.)
Making a Record
People contacting the Ombuds Office sometimes say they wish to "go on record," to make a formal, dated report that might be useful to them or to others in the future.
The Ombuds Office does not keep case records or "paper trails" for the University or any people affiliated with it--there are no files of individually identifiable information. (Temporary notes are shredded as soon as a case is resolved; only anonymous aggregate statistics of patterns and categories of concerns are maintained.) The International Ombudsman Association asserts that contacting the Ombuds Office does not put the University or employer on "notice."
There are many alternative ways to make a contemporary record. The most common format is a dated written account, composed as soon after the incident(s) as possible, with attention to times, dates, locations, names of primary parties and other people present (if any), chronology of events, exact words used, and other specific facts. It's a good idea to keep a copy in an accessible but discreet location. The original may be sealed (to indicate that it has not been altered) and/or filed in someone else's custody. For example, it might be kept on file in University offices of record, such as Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Human Resources, Security, deans, or other administrators. It could also be held by an outsider -- the police department, your lawyer, a counselor or another trusted acquaintance.
An easy and confidential way to make a dated record is to mail it to yourself through the U.S. Post Office -- certified mail if you wish to be especially careful, and after you receive it with the postmark date, keep it sealed. Or, for an ongoing series of events, you could keep a log in a dated, bound logbook. You could also email the account of the incident(s) to yourself or to someone else, thus keeping the dateline of the email transmission to help affirm the record. Other media can be used: you might make a recording on audio tape or video tape, also sent by certified mail and retained in the sealed, dated envelope.
Whenever you decide to retain a document or other materials sealed as evidence of the date they were assembled or composed, remember to keep readily available a copy, so you can confirm (in case you don't remember) the exact contents that you have sealed. Chances are, a satisfactory resolution will be achieved so you will not need to provide formal contemporary evidence. But in the meantime, having kept a dated record may give you peace of mind.