This is the third part in a three part series about phone conversations with your college student. In the first post, we considered the nature of our phone conversations with our student. In the second post, we considered how your phone conversations might change as the semester progresses. In this post, we offer some suggestions for maximizing your phone conversations with your student.
You’ve made the phone conversations with your student routine. You’re ready to listen, and you’re prepared to listen to her college adventures and share something about life at home. But sometimes the conversation just doesn’t flow. How can you encourage your college student to share her thoughts with you? Sometimes it’s all about the questions you ask – and the responses you make.
Here are five suggestions for those more awkward conversations.
Have some information which will allow you to ask appropriate questions. What might be going on at this point in the semester academically? Is it midterm time? Ask about exams. Is it time to select courses for next semester? Ask what he is thinking of signing up for. Check the college calendar on the website. Is there a big event happening? An important speaker coming to campus? A big game or tournament? Things which seem ordinary and un-newsworthy to your student may be of interest to you.
Ask open questions.
Open questions are questions that allow the other person to expand on his answers. Closed questions allow the other person to respond with a simple yes or no. Sometimes, it’s just that we are asking the questions the wrong way. “How are your classes?” may garner a response of “Fine”. Not particularly informative or satisfying. But questions such as “What is your favorite class?” or “What is your most difficult class?” or “Who is your favorite professor?” might get the conversation flowing.
Use follow-up questions.
As you listen to your college student, think about some possible ways to encourage her to expand even more on what she has offered. If her response to “What is your most difficult class?” is “English Lit.” you might follow with “Why is that one so difficult?” or “Is it getting any easier now that you’ve been in it a few weeks?” or “Are there any ways that you can get any help with the subject?” Asking follow-up questions not only opens the door to more conversation, it lets your college student know that you are truly listening to her response.
Be aware of stoppers and encouragers.
In her book The Zen of Listening, Rebecca Z. Shafir, suggests that some listening responses are stoppers while others are encouragers. Two of the stoppers which Shafir suggests are potential traps when we are listening to our students – denial and advice giving. How often do we discount our student’s perception of a situation by saying something like, “It can’t be that bad,” or “You’re making this seem worse than it probably is”? Yes, we’re trying to help, but we’re actually dismissing his feelings. Advice giving may be linked to denial. A good rule of thumb for college parent listening might be to give advice only when asked – and keep it short. Sometimes our college student may not want advice, he may only want you to listen. You don’t want your child to avoid sharing information with you because he doesn’t really want your advice.
Shafir also suggests some encouragers for good listening. Among these, two particularly useful ones may be silence and reassurance. Sometimes the best thing that you can do is to bite your tongue and just listen. Just be there. Don’t give feedback and don’t give advice. Just listen. And sometimes the most appreciated response may be simple and sincere reassurance – that you understand, that things will get better, that you’ll be there.
Remember the fine line.
It’s important to remember that there may be a fine line between interest and interrogation. You want to show interest, but don’t grill your college student. Let him take the lead. Remember two important things – not every conversation is going to be a fulfilling one – and you’re working at letting go anyway.