The nature of the RA 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 their RA.  As you find yourself in these situations please keep in mind the following listening and helping skills:

Helping vs. Rescuing

There is a very fine line between helping and rescuing someone from the situation(s) they're facing.  At times it can be easy to rush to solve the problem, or just provide the conclusion to the resident that you feel is appropriate.  This is not helpful to that person and can hinder them in future situations.  When a resident comes to you it is important to empower them to make their own decisions and help them develop the skills needed to resolve their own issues.  Below are some examples of what it means to be a helper vs. a rescuer:

  • A helper listens for ques and requests, presents potential ideas based on what is being asked, gives only the information that is needed and follows-up periodically for future problem solving.
  • A rescuer gives advice when not asked, goes beyond what is needed, doesn't allow for reflection and feedback and doesn’t teach skills.


Trust is a critical component of every relationship.  This is likely a big reason why your resident has decided to come talk with you.  Residents may share all types of personal and sensitive information with you in confidence.  They usually approach you with the expectation that your conversation is private and that it will stay between you. If you violate that confidence, you risk losing the person's trust and the opportunities for them to confide in you again.

Even with that expectation for privacy, you can sometimes create more harm by not bringing the concern to the attention of the appropriate people.  Sometimes keeping information private can be a problem if the resident’s best interest is not being served. For example, in situations that could result in self-harm or harm to others, or if what the person is sharing goes beyond your training or ability level, not passing the information on can cause more harm than good.

Please consider the tips below when try to navigate confidentiality:

  • Always be honest. Try and help them understand that you are obligated to report certain types of information. Do not ever promise that you will be able to keep every conversation private. Explain that you may need to contact a professional staff member, but that you will not tell anyone who doesn't need to know what's going on. 
  • If you need to tell someone, always make sure they are an appropriate resource. When in doubt, contact your supervisor or ask Campus Safety to get you in touch with the DSA staff member on-call.  You do not need to share any identifying information at this time, but can ask for advice or clarification on how to proceed with the situation.  If they cannot directly help you they will at least be able point you in the right direction.  Do not tell other RAs or your friends in hopes that they will keep it to themselves.  Know your campus resources, including the confidential resources, so that you will feel more comfortable referring someone to the appropriate service.
  • If another RA tries to tell you about a confidential conversation, stop them.  Please remind them that they should not be freely sharing this information and either need to keep it confidential or talk with their ADRL.
  • If you are going to involve someone else, always let the original person know. Be as transparent as you can be regarding who will know what information.  Explain the reasons why you need to share the information, and ask the person to understand.  Whether they do or not is something we can deal with later, but your primary responsibility is to ensure the health and safety of that student and any other student who may be impacted (this includes yourself).

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'll 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're listening.
  • Don’t 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 powerful demonstration of your patience and care for their situation.
  • Use attentive body language. Sit on an equal level and facing the person.  Don't cross your arms or sit in a way that's closed off. 
  • Be comfortable but try not to fidget.  This can be distracting to the other person.
  • Don't be afraid to take notes during the conversation.  This will let you more easily remember in detail what was being said
  • 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 or what they may be going through!  Just because you may not think it's a big deal what they person is sharing could be 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.

Active Listening Techniques

  • Listen for content and feelings.
  • Give a short paraphrased statement about what was expressed and heard and provide an opportunity for the person to clarify your interpretation.
  • Ask open and closed-ended questions.  These allow the other person to provide more detail and content. 
  • Do not agree or disagree with the person.  Use neutral language and expressions to help the person come to their own conclusion.
  • Clarify comments to help the person see other points of view.
  • Encourage the person to reflect on the conversation.
  • Acknowledge the worth or value of the other person, and their feelings on the issue at hand.