In these uncertain times, even the best of us in career services leadership are challenged to maintain our missions of providing compassionate, competent career assistance to our teams, students, graduates, and other constituents you serve. It can be especially difficult conveying care and concern when working at an online institution, but I know it is possible and certainly worth making the effort. Below are my top two tips (we don’t need long lists right now, right?) for creating and cultivating trust in an online environment.
#1 Listen with open ears, eyes and heart. Working online forces you to pay much closer attention to the actual words that people use. Whether it is on the phone or in an email, it is critical that you repeat back exactly what was said and check in to be sure you heard or read them correctly. And if it is a bad connection, make sure you say, “I’m sorry, what you’re saying is so important to me, but I can’t quite hear you.” Furthermore, if you don’t do anything else and I cannot stress this enough: you must listen to understand and NOT respond first! When you do this, you are facilitating engagement on both sides. And therefore opening the path to mutual validation.
#2 Validate what is genuinely being shared with you. After doing this for many years, what I am about to say may make some of you upset, but it is the truth: It doesn’t matter who is right. I tell my counselors all the time, that when you are communicating with your students, make sure you acknowledge their feelings and thoughts as valid. Even if they are not real for you, they are real for them and that is an essential part of your job. For example, they may tell you their internship is a waste of time and you disagree, but if you do not recognize that they are thinking this, you will never connect with them. Using validation as a technique helps you to be empathetic with the person so you can better understand their perspective whatever it may be.
Take the time to do a video conference with your team—if they have gmail, Google Hangouts is a free and easily accessible way to get it done quickly. Or if you can’t do that, get them on a conference call and give EVERYONE a chance to have their voice heard. Invite them to do the same with the students, grads, and employers they are working with as well. Some of us may need extra reassurance today and in the days coming ahead.
I believe we can all do this, despite our personal worries, in meaningful yet measured ways because it is desperately needed in the current climate. Over the last couple of weeks, I witnessed a few of my colleagues grow increasingly anxious, confused, and frightened about how the coronavirus scare is affecting their families and livelihood. And even though none of us know how things will unfold or resolve itself, I have tried to be calm, rational, and respectful to their needs. I admit that I don’t always know what the right thing to say is, but they know I want to be the leader they can trust to at least listen and validate what is happening so we can move forward positively together.
How do you create and cultivate trust within your team? Are there specific tools you use to make sure the students or graduates in your care know you understand their needs? I would love to hear from you so let’s share our best practices here!”