Our next Final Question post comes from Kyle Hickman who shared is FQ, “As
#SApros, how do we approach these issues with students while remaining #Authentic and #Vulnerable? What’s the gray area?” during our 11/15 #SAChat on Self-Care during Peak Times.
Before we speed into this topic, let’s take a second to consider what indicates a higher education/student affairs professional who is great at developing relationships (outside of knowledge and experience). I cannot pretend to know everything there is know to know on the subject, but I imagine if you asked a student or a professional that question, the list of answers would not be as extensive as you might think. What do you think you would hear? That person is relatable… they “understand” me… they are a good listener! Surely, any of us can think back to our undergraduate experience or a memorable graduate experience and think of that one person who stood out from the rest. You know, that person who always seemed to have students around their office at every hour of the day. Are there any similarities between these types of individuals? Let’s see…
I want to make the case that those individuals who we thought of just a moment ago exemplify an extraordinary level of personal proficiency in being authentic/genuine and in treading a safe line of vulnerability. In my limited experience working as a professional, it seems that authenticity and vulnerability have been scary propositions for some. Why is that? Well, when you examine what it takes to be a truly authentic professional who can be sufficiently vulnerable, that requires quite a bit of courage, discipline, and training. Unfortunately, many of us do not receive the training needed to tread that line of professionalism. For others, courage and discipline are not core values and/or not natural strengths. Therefore, as professionals, we are told (on many occasions) to consciously separate our personal and professional lives. In fact, when I was introduced to my current position as a graduate assistant, the online training module specifically stipulated that I was to separate those two entities from one another.
Why do we do this? Why are we so afraid of showing who we truly are?
Coming back to that original question, the HESA professionals who seem to connect so well with students and other faculty/staff are the ones who develop deep, meaningful relationships and can relate with students. I’m not sure many people would argue that. Therefore, what does it require to develop such a powerful connection with someone else? First off, it asks you to consciously empathize with another person, allowing them to confide in you and build mutual trust in the process. Deep, meaningful relationships revolve around a significant level of trust and understanding. That trust never fully develops unless both parties are being sufficiently authentic and vulnerable. Obviously,
there are always topics that we should not be sharing with select parties. I would make the case that this “gray area” is exactly what persuades some professionals from being as authentic or vulnerable as they would like to be. And of course, there have been individuals who have failed in the attempt of being authentic and vulnerable, further destroying a potential relationship with a student or professional because they have revealed a lack of personal credibility. But, just because a few people have failed in their attempt to be authentic, does not mean that we should avoid it altogether. The power of these types of transformational relationships (whether they are a mentor/mentee situation, a genuine professional respect for one another, etc.) can profoundly change the life of another person and/or significantly elevate our profession.
If you are a working professional in Higher Education & Student Affairs, remember that you are in your position for a reason and it is not through divine intervention. Instead, you have a unique set of traits that have allowed you to be successful. Plus, you are absolutely unique from any other person in your profession. Own it! Utilize it! Many of us got into this profession because we love to help students do great things. If you can be TRULY authentic and TRULY vulnerable, then you will be amazed as to how many great relationships that you can make and how much more effective you can be in helping students to excel. More than anything, remember that you were a college student not too long ago yourself and that you probably took part in many of the same activities that you now address with students. For example, once upon a time, you were certainly just as stressed as they are about tests and papers, you might have been overwhelmed with responsibilities of campus organizations and you were probably consumed with a number of personal issues as an undergraduate. Take that as an opportunity to be vulnerable authentic in your conversations and interactions. If you can leverage that responsibility, the channels of respect and trust will flow naturally with your students. Not to mention, if a student would list you as an inspiration to them, I’m not sure that happens without you being truly authentic and vulnerable. After all, are we not in the business of inspiring students to do great things?
Kyle Hickman is a graduate student at Texas A&M University-Commerce. He is currently completing a Master’s in the Higher Education – Emphasis in College Teaching program and is the graduate assistant for the L.E.A.D. program (Leadership Engagement and Development).