University Housing and Residence Life


Section 5: Listening and Helping Skills

Section 5.1: Mediation and Confrontation

The nature of your role means that staff are often put in a position to be an effective helper for their residents in times of need. Even with all the professional staff and additional resources available both on and off campus, sometimes residents feel most comfortable talking with a fellow peer.  Please keep in mind the following listening and helping skills as you find yourself in similar situations.

Listening Skills

When you've established trust with your residents, they may seek you out to discuss personal matters or to gain emotional support. The first step in being truly supportive is learning how to be attentive and demonstrating that you are engaged and available to the person with whom you are interacting. Being a good listener and creating an appropriate environment for communicating with your residents is key.

When talking to residents:

  • Be aware of your schedule and surroundings. Do you have time to talk? Are you going to potentially be distracted?

  • When the person is talking to you be sure not to interrupt. Let them finish their thought and you will have time to respond.

  • Encourage the person to talk about feelings. Use non-verbal cues such as nods and quiet verbal agreements to demonstrating you are listening.

  • Do not be afraid of periods of silence. These will change throughout your conversation. It might take someone longer to feel comfortable, and sitting in silence can be a powerful demonstration of your patience and care for their situation.

  • Use attentive body language. Sit on an equal level and facing the person. Do not cross your arms or sit in a way that's closed off. Do not sit in a chair when they are sitting on the floor. Do not stand over them when they are sitting on their bed. Do ask if you can take a seat before you do so in their room. Do join them on the floor if that's where they are sitting. Do be attentive of your body language.

  • Be comfortable but try not to fidget. This can be distracting to the other person.

  • Pay attention to the emotions being expressed. This will help you know how to better interact with the other person.

  • When it's appropriate ask the resident what they need from you or what they would like you to do next. 

  • Under no circumstance should you judge the person. Their problem may not seem like a big deal be it may seem like the most important and consuming thing in their life at the time.

  • Avoid rushing to a solution. Sometimes the process is more important than the destination. Venting could be all they really needed.

Active Listening Techniques 

  • Be yourself, act natural, be comfortable & confident

  • Express an interest in what the person is saying

  • Talk less and listen more

  • Ask questions that clarify the situation at hand

  • Use open ended questions that call for more than a yes or no answer

  • Help the student stay on track and away from tangents

Helping vs. Rescuing

Sometimes helping someone and rescuing someone can seem similar; however they can have different outcomes. At times it can be easy to rescue a student and solve the problem, or just provide the conclusion to the resident that you feel is appropriate. This may not always be helpful to that person as they will not be able to do it themselves in future situations. When a resident comes to you it may be important to empower them to make their own decisions and help them develop the skills needed to resolve their own issues.

Remember the following when you are helping someone:

  • Please be patient while they decide if they can trust you.

  • Let them tell you their story. The whole story. In their own way.

  • Please accept that whatever they may have done, whatever they may do is the best they have to offer and it seemed right at the time.

  • They are not “a” person. They are THIS person, unique and special.

  • Do not judge them as right or wrong, bad or good. They are what they are and that is all they have got.

  • Do not assume that your knowledge about them is more accurate than theirs. You only know what they have told you.  That’s only part of them.

  • Please hear what they are feeling, not just their words – accept all of them.


There is no quicker way to undermine your credibility than to share a person’s personal problem(s) with other staff members or students.  The only person with whom you should legitimately share confidential information is your supervisor.  Occasionally, some information may be shared with other members of the RA staff, but only when there is a legitimate reason for them to have this information.  See Confidentiality Policy in Section 2 of the RA Manual.

Section 5.2 Dealing with Confrontation

Knowing how to handle confrontation is an important part of the RA experience.  Whether you are confronting an issue on your own behalf, working on the behalf of another resident, or approaching a violation of campus or community standards, all confrontation can be handled by keeping a few basic principles in mind.

Confrontation is…

  • An intervention

  • Allowing ourselves to grow, change, and learn who we are and what we value

  • Feedback about an individual’s behavior (not their personality traits)

  • Not necessarily negative

 Confrontation is important because…

  • It helps build and maintain a community

  • It allows students to share their needs and assert their rights

  • It makes each person take responsibility

  • It provides you with important skills for working with a variety of people and situations

Use Confrontation:

  • When the needs and rights of an individual are being violated

  • When a student is involved in a policy violation

  • When you feel that someone is involved in a type of behavior that, if changed, would benefit them, yourself as well as the community as a whole

For Handling Confrontation Use the Following Best Practices:

  • Know the policies and procedures and ask when unclear

  • Be consistent when confronting situations

  • Call for back-up when needed. That can be another RA/staff member, supervisor, or UPD

  • Have all the important phone numbers already in your phone like YOU’RE YOUR supervisor, other staff members, etc

  • Do not take rude behavior or negative attitudes personally

  • Do not disrespect or threaten a resident

Section 5.3 Mediation

Communication between roommates and other students living in the residence halls is key to having a successful and enjoyable year living together.  Every resident is different and brings something unique to their roommate/hall relationship.  Sometimes the differences can clash and create conflict in the room/hall. 

Every person will perceive conflict differently. Some people try to avoid conflict while others seem to thrive in it. Conflict can both be debilitating in some situations while healthy and necessary for others. When handled effectively, conflict can challenge ideas, spur change and progress, inspire growth, improve communication, and preserve future relationships.

When You Hear of a Conflict on Your Floor:

  • Gather information from all parties involved, not just the person with the problem.

  • Let residents know that conflict is normal and in most cases can be resolved. You have been trained to do this and can be more successful than them doing it alone. Help instill confidence in your process.

  • Ask whether the person who has a problem has voiced their concerns to the other person yet. Very often a problem is due to the other person not knowing they are causing issues.

  • Speak to the person with the problem and share the following steps of escalation:

    • Work it out amongst themselves (this is the desired outcome)

    • Mediate with an RA

    • Meet with your supervisor either alone or together with the problem person