Confronting peers is one of the most challenging aspects of the RA position. There is just something different about confronting one of your own peers. It was never difficult to tell my mom or dad when I thought they were doing something wrong. I’ve also never had a problem telling the children I babysat for that they were breaking the rules. Yet, during my first confrontation as a RA, I found that my stomach was all twisted up in knots. I was as nervous as if I was the one caught doing something wrong. Why is it so difficult to confront a peer? I think confrontation becomes so difficult because we all want the respect of our peers. I want to share a little secret with all of you: you can learn the skills to confront your peers appropriately and still continue a respectful friendship.
The first step of the confrontation is the knock on the door or the “excuse me,” from the hallway. People tend to get defensive when they are confronted in front of their friends. They suddenly have something to prove. It really helps to try to speak privately with the person being documented. This keeps the person from feeling embarrassed or “put on the spot” and you are able to have a smoother conversation with less risk of interruption.
Once you have the person pulled aside, the rest of the confrontation will depend on your ability to remain calm, clear and confident. The person you are speaking with will take their cues from you. You are in control of the situation. If you start to raise your voice, you can be certain that both voices will get louder. I’m not sure how that works, but it does. You should try sitting in a room with some friends and start to randomly whisper. You’ll be surprised that the conversation will turn to a whisper without anyone even questioning why.
You must try to remain calm and use a conversational tone at all times. Remember that actions speak louder then words. Stand with an open and relaxed posture, and maintain good eye contact. Don’t appear closed off with crossed arms or seem like you don’t care by rolling your eyes or looking away. The person you are speaking with deserves the same respect that you deserve in the situation. You must listen to what they have to say and at the same time be able to clearly express why you are confronting them. Don’t apologize for the confrontation – you have done nothing wrong. You can state the policy clearly and then state how your observations relate to the policy violation. Confront the individual’s behavior, not their values. Your job description doesn’t require you to change the attitudes of everyone you disagree with. It does, however, require you to confront policy violations as you see them. Your knowledge of the policies will be the key to your ability to be both clear and confident in your confrontation. I know they’re long and sometimes both obvious and boring, but take the few minutes and become familiar with your institution’s policies. You never know what you might come across.
After you have calmly, clearly and confidently explained the policy violation to the individual, ask them if they have any questions. Don’t forget to inform them that they will be documented. Leave the confrontation with an open invitation to talk about it. Make sure your peer knows that you haven’t done this as an attack on them. Try to leave the confrontation with both parties feeling comfortable and knowledgeable about the policy at hand.
Confrontation won’t always be easy. There will be times that you will come across some pretty poor attitudes. Don’t take anything personally. Continue to do your job and remain calm and confident. You wouldn’t have gotten the job if someone didn’t feel like you could handle it. Also, you may come across a situation that is too large or too loud or too anything. Don’t hesitate to call for back-up. Sometimes it helps to have another person there to witness the policy violation, and assist with the confrontation.
Trust your gut and remember that your attitude sets the tone for the entire encounter. Stay sure about who you are and what you are doing and everyone will respect you for your confidence, knowledge and integrity.
Submitted by Irene Kenny, Resident Manager, Shepherd University