Communication & Conflict Management
Organizational & Human Resources
Supervision & Organization
Within institutions, student affairs professionals manage resources, processes, and staff. Institution type and organizational features determine the amount that professionals must engage in these activities, and this information then helps them to determine which leadership style is optimally suited to the context of the situation (Kezar, 2011, pp. 235). I must choose an appropriate style for my work with the Peer Career Fellows to be sure that I an communicating as effectively as possible.
As their supervisor, I also assess needs, provide constructive feedback, and identify ways to support them when needed. I firmly believe that “the most important resources for [student] learning are human resources” so I try to be flexible whenever it’s possible to convey my appreciation for the hard work they do (Oliaro & Gordon. 1996, pp. 4). On rare occasions when this approach is less appropriate, I “acknowledge the natural tensions between competing interests” (Bolman & Deal, 2013, pp. 92) and shift my approach to a fresh perspective. I set expectations by providing weekly email recaps after meetings and encourage open and honest communication. By developing a clear schedule of work hours and a professional development and project presentation schedule for meetings, I ensure the accountability of the whole team.
In higher education, the procedures that allow campuses to operate effectively demand nearly constant attention. Often, student affairs professionals are tasked with handling the procedures, coordination, and organizational tasks for their area. For example, within career services, “emerging career services professionals are called upon to be project managers, marketers, event planners, graphic designers, technology specialists, administrative support professionals, high-touch collaborators, and organizational relationship builders” (Miller, 2016, pp.1). Many professionals are not equipped with the specific credentials they need to prepare them for these responsibilities, but they do their best to learn as they go. In order to ensure that I am prepared to do the same, I developed my ability to “demonstrate familiarity in basic tenets of supervision and possible application of these supervision techniques, communicate with others using effective verbal and non-verbal strategies appropriate to the situation in ways that the person(s) with whom you are engaged prefers, develop and utilize appropriate meeting materials (e.g. facilitation skills, agenda, notes/ minutes) and effectively manage and lead meetings through the use of agenda management strategies” (ACPA & NASPA, 2015).
Effective communication is an essential tool for student affairs professionals, but it isn't always easy to implement in stressful situations. Especially in cases with sensitive information, professionals should know how to get things done diplomatically and navigate political environments as needed. Professionals who are more aware of their strengths and weaknesses in crisis situations have an advantage compared to their colleagues, because they can use this self-awareness to adjust their behavior to the situation more readily. I completed an Intercultural Conflict Style assessment and found that my conflict management strategy is primarily in the “accommodation” zone, which means that I am empathetic, use metaphors to communicate during conflict, and avoid expressing emotions during an argument. By understanding the strengths of this style, I have a greater likelihood of engaging in effective conflict resolution. I can also maintain an awareness of things to watch out for so I know when I may need to take space from a situation. Understanding when and how to compartmentalize my feelings until a more appropriate time will make me a better professional overall.
Communication with internal and external stakeholders can also be a major source of conflict if not managed carefully. When I redesigned the Cooperative Education bulletin board to market co-op services, increase enrollment, and illustrate value to stakeholders, I included quantitative and qualitative data which I collected from end-of-semester surveys for the previous academic year. By showcasing the value of co-op using data, I provided a clear and measurable picture to employers, students, and college leadership about what co-op contributes to the community and why it’s a good investment of resources. More specifically, AAHE, ACPA & NASPA suggest that professionals should "incorporate student academic performance and development goals into the educational mission, and assessment of progress toward them into unit performance (AAHE, ACPA, NASPA, 1998, p.7). Attaining this extra level of clarity in data collection and display will add another method of communication for everyone to see what's new in the office.
In professional staff meetings, we participate in a rotating facilitation model in which a different person takes down action items for the next meeting each week. We began to implement this process in our career development meetings with the fellows this semester, in order to give them some skills in meeting facilitation. I created a template for the weekly agenda as well as a detailed process to help them implement the new procedure. By maintaining an organized agenda, we are better prepared to discuss relevant items as well as keep our meetings timely, since we can see how much is remaining on our list. The new process has been a “good student affairs practice [to] initiate educational partnerships and develop structures that support collaboration” (Oliaro & Gordon. 1996. pp. 4). By making the agenda an established part of meetings, we have systematized a shared set of priorities.
When it is my turn to facilitate the meetings, I try to remain 100% present. Although I am focused in every meeting, I feel that it's important to take stock of reactions and adjust my style, take mental notes about what resources the team needs for after the meeting or follow up reminders, and check in with the team for understanding. Meetings are oftentimes a placeholder to say that you have checked in. However, I believe in making more focused and intentional use of meeting time unless it has been planned to do an in-depth brainstorming session ahead of time.
AAHE, ACPA & NASPA. (2003). Taskforce for powerful partnerships, a shared responsibility for learning: A joint report.
ACPA & NASPA. (2015). Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Educators. Washington, D.C.: Authors.
Bolman, L.G. & Deal, T.E. (2013). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice & leadership. 5th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hammer, M.R. (2015). Intercultural conflict style inventory: Assessing communication and conflict resolution styles across cultures. Olney, MD: ICS Inventory, LLC.
Oliaro & Gordon. (1996). Principle of good practice for student affairs.