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Conversation Tips

The following text comes from a publication given to all parents during summer orientation titled "A Parent Handbook for Talking with College Students about Alcohol." This publication is licensed by UW-Eau Claire from Rob Turrisi, Rh. D., of Penn State University. It has been excerpted here with permission. 

Communication Pointers: Here Are Some Do's and Don'ts Studies Have Shown Make A Difference in How Students Respond

LISTEN Permit the person to speak without interruption. Listen to what he or she says. Sometimes, it is good to paraphrase. "Let me see if I understand you. It sounds like you feel that…" With paraphrasing, you don't agree or disagree, you interpret.

USE HOW, WHAT, AND WHY QUESTIONS By using these words in your questions, you reduce the opportunity for simple yes or no responses. This opens the door to really following the thought process of your student and helping them work through the potential risks in their mind.  

VERBALIZE RESPECT Whenever you can and it is appropriate to do so, convey respect to the other individual (e.g., "I admire what you have done and how you are coping"). People want to be respected and will be more willing to talk to those who respect them. Tell your son or daughter you are proud of them for being able to handle these tough situations.

CHOOSE A GOOD TIME Choose an optimal time to bring up and discuss problems. Don't do it when the other person is rushed or has a commitment elsewhere. Wait until you both can have a relaxed, calm discussion. Perhaps you could take your child to lunch or out for some ice cream where you could both sit down to talk and listen to one another.

COMMUNICATE DIRECTLY Don't talk about important things while absorbed in another activity, such as reading the newspaper, watching television, or doing the dishes.

Students need to be reminded that you are on their side. Whenever possible, common goals should be emphasized and should serve as the basis for your guidance and recommendations (e.g., You both want them to be healthy and safe).

AVOID COMMUNICATION "STOPPERS" There are single statements that will close anyone down (e.g., "Anyone who drives drunk is crazy;" "No one in this family would ever consider doing that").

CONFLICT IS NATURAL Realize that conflict is natural. We are not identical to one another. We all have different beliefs and values, therefore disagreement is a natural thing. We should use conflict as an opportunity for growth and for learning about each other rather than treating it as a negative experience.

AGREE TO DISENGAGE Agree to temporarily stop if things don't go well. Wait until both individuals can talk in a calm, direct fashion.

USE APPROPRIATE BODY LANGUAGE How you position yourself as you talk can send important messages about your attitudes or possibly convey something you are not trying to convey.

AVOID DEBATE MODE Sometimes conversations become structured so that people feel they must "defend" their position. The entire conversation turns to a mini-debate. If you sense the conversation has turned into a debate, try suggesting that you both approach matters from a different angle. Also avoid statements that begin with "you" ("You did this…"). They often make the other person feel attacked.

Didn't receive your copy of this handbook and want to learn more? If you are the parent of a UW-Eau Claire student, you can contact us at 715.836.5110 to request to have a copy mailed to you.