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15 Super Easy Tips For Having Meaningful Conversations With Your Students

Vincent Paget

October 1, 2018

Children going through their adolescence, face a multitude of issues that can challenge their self-esteem, psychological well-being and physical health. And chances are, a lot of them are too shy to reach out for help and would rather keep their problems to themselves.They need a friendly face to talk too and most of the time, that friendly face is yours.But if you don’t know what to say, or how to get them to open up about their problems, these conversations can end up being incredibly difficult for you, and awkward for them.In boarding schools, you're bound to experience moments with your boarders that provide YOU with the perfect setting to discuss these important issues. And it’s during these moments that you need the skills to turn a casual encounter into a meaningful conversation.Here are 15 super easy tips that you can use to turn those potentially difficult conversations, into valuable opportunities to make an impact:

1. Put Yourself In Their Shoes

Young teens are less likely to open up about their situation if they don't think you'll understand it from their perspective.Empathy is one of the most powerful skills you can have when it comes to building emotional relationships with your Boarders. It's a key element of emotional intelligence and it's a skill that you can develop through practise.Tip: During a conversation, try to use common words and phrases that they would normally use to describe the situation. This will help you to better understand their experience and it'll also make them feel like you do as well.[Tweet "Practise #Empathy for stronger relationships with your Boarders #ConversationTips"]

2. More Questions, Less Answers

You don’t need to have an answer for everything. Having an answer for everything makes you sound authoritative, intimidating and less human.It’s ok to say something like, “wow, that sounds like a tough situation, I’m not sure what to do there”.Asking more questions makes it sound like you're more interested and engaged in what they have to say. Questions also help you to focus the conversation on them and so you can work "with them" to solve their problems, rather than "for them."Questions like, "What are you thinking?" or "How do you feel about that?", help you to walk through the situation and help them to find their own answers.[Tweet "More Questions, Less Answers #ConversationTips"]

3. Side By Side, Not Face To Face

For deep and meaningful conversations, your body position plays an important role. If you're directly facing each other, they have to look at you directly in the eye and it can be very intimidating for a young child, it’s like they’re being investigated or interviewed.Positioning yourself side by side, or at an angle, is much more effective. Without direct eye contact, the intimidating factor is gone and they'll be more likely to open up.Being side by side also makes it more appropriate to offer some physical contact - a comforting pat on the back or on the arm is awkward when done face to face, but can be effective when executed side by side.[Tweet "Use your body position to be less intimidating #ConversationTips"]

4. Don’t Beat Around The Bush

When you're trying to get your point across be clear, direct and straight to the point. Don’t waffle on about things that don’t really matter or use long complicated words to get your point across.The worst thing you can do is confuse them or lose their focus. No one likes being lectured. Instead, use short and simple words that will get your message across and be easily understood.[Tweet "Be clear, direct and straight to the point #ConversationTips"]

5. Declare Your Motive

If you initiated the conversation, make your intentions clear right from the get-go. Be transparent and let them know why you’re worried, or want to talk to them in particular.As an adult, your motive will always be questioned by adolescents. They think that you're up to something, you want information or they’re in trouble.Honesty is the best policy. Let them know that you simply just care, and keep telling them that until they start to believe and embrace it.[Tweet "Honesty is the best policy #ConversationTips"]

6. Show Humility

Let them know that you're not perfect. Tell them about similar personal experiences and mistakes that you may have made before.Some children feel pressured not to disappoint you or to show signs of weakness because they see you as a powerful figure in their lives.So by showing them that you're not perfect and don't have an answer for everything makes you feel more human, and can help to reduce any pressures that may exist.

7. Watch The Tone Of Your Voice

Use an appropriate tone for the type of discussion you are having with your boarders.Drop the authoritative voice and use a more friendly and conversational tone to help make them feel more comfortable and casual.

8. Paraphrase For Clarity

If they are trying to explain a complicated situation, try paraphrasing what they've told you in the simplest of terms.By reiterating their situation, you can help them to see it in a different light, and bring some clarity to help them realise what their real issue might be.[Tweet "Paraphrase for clarity #ConversationTips"]

9. Give Them Praise

Give encouragement when it's due. People love hearing that they're doing a good job and even finding small good parts of bad situations can help raise their sense of self-belief.If someone starts to get down and negative when they're talking to you, pick them up with some words of encouragement and try to get them to speak more positively about their situation.

10. Be Humorous

As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine.The power of laughter can be used as a good way to break the ice and discuss issues in a less serious manner.But beware, using humour can backfire if used improperly. Make sure you assess the situation before using humour.Is it the right time to use humour? Is the topic suitable to be joking about? What kind of humour does he/she respond too? Are you prepared to respond to their reaction if it isn’t well received?If you are going to use humour, make sure that it is in their best interests, not yours.[Tweet "#Humour can backfire is used improperly #ConversationTips"]

11. Just Be There

Some people are shy and scared to reach out because they don’t feel comfortable asking for your help.So make your presence felt, be accessible, approachable, trustworthy and fun. Give them a sense of comfort and awareness that they can come and talk to you at any time.

12. Be Flexible

If you’ve made yourself accessible, but you're not flexible to talk when they come to you, then troubled boarders can feel let down, and won’t feel comfortable asking for your help again.Working at a boarding school means that you can’t just switch off and say “I’m off duty”. Instead, you need to be capable of putting your own needs and concerns aside to support any surprise issues that may arise - because they will.Giving them your full attention, despite the fact that they interrupted your schedule, will give them the sense that you truly value their well-being and consider their situation to be of the utmost importance.

13. Reassurance

If a child has come to you for help, reassure them that they've done the right thing. Sometimes, children are scared to reach out because they aren’t sure if their problems are relevant or serious enough to be talked about.It might have taken some of them a tremendous amount of courage to ask for your help, even if the problem seems small to you.By reassuring them that they made the right call, they'll have the confidence to approach you again with other problems they may have.

14. Follow Up

After a deep and meaningful conversation, make sure you follow up with how they're doing. Don’t just expect them to figure it all out.Even if you pass them on to another member of staff or a school counsellor, showing interest in their well-being by following up can work wonders. Even just a simple “how are things going?” can go a long way.

15. Don’t Forget To Smile

This one may seem obvious, but it’s often forgotten about. When you walk past a group of students on campus do you look and smile at them? Do you smile when you say goodnight at lights out?Consistently smiling and giving off a friendly presence is probably one of the most important things you can do.It’s a way to subtly connect with them without saying anything. It's an effortless act that will almost certainly draw a positive response and help to build a friendly relationship.[Tweet "Don't forget to #smile #ConversationTips"]

Building Relationships

Building a safe sense of community for boarders at your school is by no means an easy task, but by encouraging and enabling young boarders to speak up about their issues is a good first step.Using these techniques, you can turn casual encounters into meaningful conversations and begin to build a sense of trust, comfort and acceptance between you and your boarders - Factors that are key to building healthy relationships, and ultimately a healthy community.

Have Some Tips Of Your Own?

Have you got any tips or techniques that you use to engage with your boarders? Please share them in the comments below, I’d love to hear about them.

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Vincent Paget

Vincent Paget is an Operations Manager at Orah based in Auckland, New Zealand. He loves technology, organisation, nature and adventure sports, not necessarily in that order.

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