Informal problem-solving steps
Next, prepare yourself to act
Get advice and support
It takes courage to discuss complaints or concerns with authority figures-especially if one of the people you need to talk with is someone you feel has done you wrong. So it can help first to talk with some fellow students who already may have dealt with similar problems on campus. Find out whether they think your complaint or concern is reasonable and worth following up. And maybe they can help you to re-think what is reasonable to expect may happen.
TIP-No one else can handle your problem for you. Of course, you probably will want to talk to your folks or to other friends and family members. But, because you're an independent adult, university officials can't talk to anyone else about you, without your written permission. Giving that permission is a step usually reserved for formal grievances-and the university's policy says that you can't move to that step without trying to resolve things informally yourself. Besides, wouldn't you rather be in charge?
TIP-It's bad form to put faculty and staff you know on the spot by complaining to them about a co-worker. Even though you may have a comfortable relationship with someone, there's nothing they can do besides refer you to the 1st contact person you should talk to, anyway. It could be awkward and even risky for them to violate confidentiality and professional standards by discussing the other person's behavior with you.
Collect the info you need
The person you talk to will want all the details. Of course, those can be hard to remember when you're stressed. So it would help to collect papers, check dates, and jot down notes about whatever you want to talk about. If you've already had some related conversations, be sure to keep track of when you spoke (and the person's title or role).
EXAMPLE-You get a grade that's lower than you think you deserve: Plan to bring in all of your papers, other homework, and tests, along with any grades or comments you got back. Bring in the syllabus and assignment handouts that you have, too. Depending on the situation, it also might help to bring in other info about absences or whatever might apply.
EXAMPLE-You feel mistreated and want to make sure that doesn't happen again: If you can, write out exactly what happened, including who said or did what, when, and where. If doing that might make you too uncomfortable, then you might share these details with a friend who could write things down for you. You may end up finding out that getting your story down in black and white ends up making you feel better, more in control.
Write your own script
There's always a best way to start a conversation. But if you walk in without thinking that through, you may end up starting in the worst way, coming on too strong or too negatively. Then it could be hard to turn things around. Try to figure out what you might say up front that would help the other person listen to you with an open mind.
TIP-Avoid blaming and shaming. Nobody likes to feel attacked. If you make someone else feel threatened or disrespected, that person probably won't even be able to listen to you very well, because they'll just be reacting defensively or angrily.
EXAMPLE-Find common ground and assume good intentions. "I'm sure we'd both rather not have to talk about a problem, but something's really bothering me, and I hope that maybe you can help. I'll explain what's on my mind, then I'd like to hear what you think about it, too."
Rehearse your one-sentence problem description and summary of what you want to happen. If you begin by telling someone how you hope things will end, before going into a long story, you may never even need to do that.
There's always a best way to end a conversation, too. Thinking up a polite exit line can be helpful. Especially if things don't go well, then you'll be ready to leave without saying or doing something in frustration that you might regret later.
EXAMPLE-Agree to disagree. "We've both talked about how we see this, and it sounds as though we may never see it the same way. At least it's good to know where you're coming from, and I hope you feel the same about what I've had to say."