Rocky start? Try active listening if you're struggling to communicate

This is a tried and true communication model for conflict resolution. Our host families and students have found it to be a very effective tool in resolving both minor and major problems by keeping an open dialogue with one another.

The four key steps to active listening

1. Establishing the relationship

Establish communication and trust with your student by creating an empathetic environment. This means withholding any judgments or advice at the outset of the conversation. Paraphrase their statements to acknowledge that you have listened to them. Validate your student’s feelings as a natural and acceptable reaction, even if you do not agree.

2. Defining the problem

Assist your student in defining and clarifying the problem. Ask open-ended questions like, “What do you think the main problem is right now?”. Summarize their response so they understand you are taking their perspective into account. Redefine the problem by stating everyone's position and where the differences in opinions lie.

3. Exploring alternatives

Ask your student to provide some input rather than defining the solution. For example, ask “Has this happened before in your own family? How did you go about solving things?”. Explore consequences of each alternative, like, “How do you think both you and I would react or feel if we put this solution into place?”.

4. Evaluating and resolving

Summarize the situation by re-stating the problem and clarifying what the next steps are. For example, “I am glad we decided to discuss what we need to change so you can get your homework done and still have time to hang out with your friends.”


Affirm your student's willingness and ability to address concerns and reinforce their positive attributes. For example, "I appreciate that you are open-minded and flexible in thinking of possible solutions. You have brought up some good solutions and concerns that were important for us to talk about.”


Discuss the importance of both sides committing to the solutions agreed upon. A good example would be, “Let’s review and summarize what we decided we’d both do in order to move forward positively and set a check-in time to discuss this again.”

EF support resources

Sometimes, no matter how hard you or your student work at having effective communication, something might just not “click.” Keep in mind that your IEC, RC and Program Advisor are always available to help mediate these conversations or offer you or your student tips on how to best tackle issues. Truly no problem, disagreement or struggle is “too small” to discuss with your IEC—in fact, many host families tend to wait too long to get our support staff involved. Even if you prefer to work through a situation without direct intervention, you should always keep your IEC informed about what is happening.

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