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Communication and consultation

"It’s been a hard winter on everyone, my son included. He’s been having a tough time, and I think he would benefit from talking to someone, just to get some help sorting through things. But he says he doesn’t need help, he just needs more time in each day. Any suggestions?"

As we work with students at the University of Minnesota, we often encourage them to adopt a “consultation mentality.” While students are able to grasp this conceptually, many struggle with putting the idea into practice, often reporting that they “don’t need to talk to anyone” and they can figure things out on their own. Although current U of M students are among the brightest and most accomplished in the University’s history, the benefits and reasons for pursuing consultation go beyond need.

Consider the following in encouraging your student to adopt a consultation mentality:

1.  It’s only a matter of time. The academic, social, and personal complexities of college are such that the need to talk with someone will present itself at some point. Like any skill, practice helps, and during a crisis is not the best time to figure out where to go or what to do or say. For this reason, it’s helpful for students to become comfortable with the resources and offices on campus offering support before a crisis occurs. With faculty and teaching assistants among these resources, making time to visit during office hours allows students to experience faculty as approachable in case unexpected issues arise later in the semester.

2.  Efficiency matters. I met an engineering student once who was convinced he didn’t need to consult his professor about a challenging homework set. The problem was that while he was working hard to complete the assignment on time for that one course, he sacrificed work in all of his other classes, was sleep deprived and stressed, and he couldn’t see when the cycle of playing catch-up might end. In discussing this situation, he agreed that consulting with his professor or joining a study group would have enabled him to be more efficient and maintain life balance. Reaching out and communicating with resources on campus is not just about need. Efficiency matters and consultation is an essential tool in achieving it.

3.  Satisfaction, satisfaction, satisfaction. Completing challenging academic work comes with its own intrinsic rewards, such as feelings of accomplishment and growth. However, these benefits can be enhanced by communicating with others throughout the process, not just at the end. When students develop the practice of communicating, they build professional and support networks and allow others, including faculty, to appreciate their talents and personal qualities. These interactions often lead to unexpected offers to participate in scholarly and campus-based opportunities that may otherwise go unnoticed. 

When talking with your son or daughter about college life, include a discussion about adopting a consultation mentality. Challenge the common belief that communication should only happen as needed and that it takes practice.  Waiting for a need to arise before reaching out is likely to have frustrating results, including awkwardness and stress. Communication can be especially difficult and intimidating for first-generation college students unfamiliar with university systems. International scholars face similar challenges as the norms for communication in their native countries may be very different than those in an American university setting. 

Students commonly report feeling energized after having a campus consultation and wonder why they ever dreaded the opportunity to begin with.  Similarly, faculty and staff don’t want to just meet students during times of crisis and need; we enjoy exchanging ideas and learning more about the aspirations and goals of students.  The first steps for effective communication on campus are 1) showing up, and 2) saying, “Hello, my name is ______.”

By Scott Slattery, Director of Learner Development, Medical School

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