Listening: The Greatest Compliment
My responsibilities as associate provost and dean of instruction position me to serve as a sort of academic ombudsman, a person who receives concerns raised by both faculty and students and who, when necessary, facilitates the proper execution of the university’s grievance procedures. Given the typical demeanor of an aggrieved individual, I sometimes have the opportunity to engage someone who is a) frustrated and demanding restitution, b) mortified and seeking reconciliation, c) belligerent and threatening litigation, or d) a quixotic mixture of all the above. By their very nature, such engagements are seldom comfortable; indeed, the level of discomfort makes the all-important task of listening well difficult—but not impossible. Creating an environment that gently separates the emotional from the rational is the first step in addressing a grievance and perhaps defusing it.