Scary Thing #1

How to receive negative feedback about yourself from others

When I am told that I did something wrong my first instinct is usually to defend myself and defend myself until the bitter end. It is not easy to receive feedback that indicates that I was wrong or that I need to complete something better. In fact, I find it easier to generate reasons why I performed the way that I performed. Some of these reasons may be:

“You didn’t tell me how you wanted it done.”

“No one asked me to do anything.”

“I didn’t know that.”

It is really easy for me and, I believe, others to fall into this immediate sense of defense. Our brains often take negative feedback and make it feel like these other persons are insulting your very existence. That is not always the case when we receive negative feedback about work that we have done. Over the years I have rarely received negative feedback and when I did it was surprising to me. An internship supervisor did not rank me as well as I thought that I performed during an evaluation once and their comment was “I can tell that wasn’t what you were expecting.” I remember being dismissive of the comment thinking that my face seemed permanently disappointed. It was not until later when I was relating the story to my friends that I suddenly realized that I was angry at the feedback I received. I remember thinking: Why didn’t you tell me this was a problem at the time it was a problem? Why does that one instance matter this much?

This instance was one of a few that has influenced my beliefs on effective feedback. As a professional it is important to realize that there will always be persons who offer negative feedback first and foremost. When a person is offering negative feedback about the work that you have done – it is professional feedback. It’s not that you are a bad person, but the work you did was not the best. It is a small difference, but you are not your work. A word of caution: there are professionals whose negative feedback is personal. Those persons are your peers, supervisors, and even your directors. Much like I separate professional feedback from myself as a person I also separate negative feedback about my person. I rarely choose to reflect on this type of feedback because its impact on my life as a whole is minimal.

Scary Thing #2

How to give negative feedback to student staff

Kim Scott wrote an entire book on feedback and being a kick-ass boss. One of the most important lessons from the book is about giving negative feedback. Failing to give negative feedback is a disservice to the employees under your supervision. If a student is not performing to expectations or has violated expectations it is necessary that the behavior is addressed and corrected. Many of the students that we supervise are still trying to discover themselves. They are joining campus organizations, Greek life, maintaining one (or more) jobs on campus. They are going to make mistakes and college is the perfect time to make and learn from them. The section about receiving negative feedback from others is applicable here too. Student staff may not know how to receive negative feedback and differentiate it from the work they did and who they are as a person. It’s a part of your responsibility as their supervisor to begin this lesson with others as well as yourself.

Scary Thing #3

How to give negative feedback to supervisors

I have never had difficulty offering my strongly worded opinions to persons in power – but I have a significant amount of privilege that has shielded me from many consequences from my rather opinionated voice. This skill may be harder to navigate because of the power dynamics of race, gender, disability and more in addition to the inherent hierarchical power structure. However, supervisors are not exempt from negative feedback simply because they are in a position above others. Some of the our supervisors are mid level managers or even senior level professionals. They have had a wealth of experience working in student affairs and maybe even other careers. This does not mean they are infallible.

If you have difficulty hearing negative feedback about your job performance you can bet there are a lot of professionals who feel similarly. Sometimes they are our bosses. However, without your feedback – no matter what it may be – they cannot address it and improve. As a member of several Facebook groups for student affairs practitioners I have read the anonymous posts where my peers have explained some pretty terrible work environments. A significant portion of the comments suggested that the poster “have a conversation” with their supervisor and although that seems really basic… it’s a step that my peers have skipped a lot in my own professional experience.

It won’t change anything.

I don’t feel like I will be heard.

I’m just going to bear it. It will let up eventually.

These are all comments that I have heard from colleagues and peers. Giving negative feedback, especially to those in positions above, seems like a confrontation. It is easier to not confront those negative behaviors. However, doing this keeps your emotions regarding those situations in a bottle. Your supervisor, never knowing that you took issue with issue #1, will take another action and create issue #2. A couple more months down the line and your bottle explodes because you just cannot handle it any longer. Confrontation is uncomfortable but it will help keep your work environment healthier in the long run.

Not So Scary Thing #1

Basic Microsoft Excel Tools

Microsoft Excel is one of the most utilized software in any job. There are entire classes dedicated to how to find and apply its features. I am not suggesting that you learn how to build giant spreadsheets with VBA code as a not so scary thing you should know as a student affairs professional (although it would not hurt…). What are some basic things you should be able to do?

  • Sort: Home Tab > Editing > Sort & Filter >
    • You can sort lower to higher, A-Z, Z-A or some custom ways
  • Filter: Home Tab > Editing > Sort & Filter > Filter
    • This makes each of you headers an option where you can see only specific data. For instance you can filter by Residence Hall, persons who answered a specific way in a survey, etc).
  • Conditional Highlighting: Home Tab > Conditional Formatting > Highlight Cell Rules
    • Doing this will let you easily color code your documents based on criteria you set up. I’ve used this for budgeting documents. Green if they spent less than what they expected and red if they spent more!
  • Format as Table: Home Tab > Format as Table
    • I really like there to be a little bit of difference between rows so if/when I am looking are large sets of data I can tell the difference. Formatting a range of data into a table will do that automatically so you don’t have to manually highlight every other row.
  • Drop Down Boxes: Data Tab > Data Tools > Data Validation > Allow =List
    • Sometimes I am not the only person who might be using a form. If I am using other formula in Excel that require correct spelling I want to go ahead and take away the ability for the user error of misspelling by having preset options.
  • Split a cell: Data > Data Tools > Text to Columns
    • I usually use this to split first and last names in case I need them in separate columns, but it can be used for a variety of purposes

Excel Formulas for Success

  • Subtotal
    • It’s nice to use the Subtotal count because it will dynamically show how many options are present even when you filter them. Need a quick count of how many “Yes” there are? Subtotal can help.
  • Combine two cells
    • Sometimes you need to put first and last names together. I prefer to combine with the “&” symbol.
  • Countif
    • My favorite place to use this? Counting the number of duty days assigned to staff. I have also used it to show how many events have occurred in the first half vs. last half to disprove the notion that our student staff was waiting until the end of their month to host/ propose programs.

Not so Scary Thing #2

How to Mail Merge

As a committee chair for recruitment and selection for a couple years there are times where I have to send out personalized emails to over 100 persons at a time. It is probably one of the most important productivity skills that I have added to my skill set. There are two main phases – one involving Microsoft Word and the other Microsoft Excel. I’m going to talk about Word first, but you can do this is any particular order.

Step: Word

I like to take time to fully write out the email that I am planning on sending in advance. This way I can have supervisors or others read the content while I work on other steps. When I am writing the letter I will add the items that I want my mail merge to input within {Brackets}. For example, I would use {First Name} {Last Name}. My document would be filled with these brackets and indicators of what content I want to go there.

Step: Excel

I then use the content of those brackets to create the headers in Microsoft Excel. The header is important because the content there will help you pick out what content you are adding to the Mail Merge. Build your Excel sheet with those Bracket titles as headers and then fill the cells below with the content you want to see.

After you’ve completed those steps you are ready to open this URL and check out the rest of the steps! 

Not so scary summary

Sometimes things seem scarier than they actually are. Giving and receiving negative feedback is moderately terrifying until you break it down and realize it’s just a conversation about something that you did and could to better. Mail Merging can seem overwhelming because it involves learning a new skill when you could simply do what you have always done and know works.


These are just a few of the skills I think are necessary for student affairs professionals to learn and you may have noted that I included a lot of links to further explain items. That was purposeful. There are hundreds of resources available at your fingertips. Google it. Bing it. Yahoo it. You never know what you might learn.