Brynne Norgard⎹ Writing Center Consultant⎹ May 1, 2017
As a writing consultant, I walk optimistically into each appointment, confident that the writer and I will be able to get along and work on the issues the writer came to fix. However, some appointments are derailed by writers who display excessive emotion, getting angry and hostile or sad and unsure about their writing. These outpourings of emotion often make it difficult to concentrate on the writing issues at hand, and getting the appointment back on track in a respectful manner is something I was not sure I knew how to do.
Noreen Lape discusses these issues in an article on emotional intelligence. She argues that consultants need to be trained in emotional intelligence in order to help their writers get back on track during their session (or, in extreme cases, find the help they need through other campus resources, such as the counseling center). Emotional intelligence, she says, is when consultants make an effort to identify a writer’s emotional state and the reason behind it. After doing so, the consultant should validate the writer’s feelings, making him/her feel respected and understood. It is important to note that consultants do not need to agree with a writer’s feelings, but they should respect writers’ rights to feel as they do. She suggests that writers who feel validated are often more likely to calm down and resume the session and that respect and empathy are important for every writing center.
I find this information incredibly helpful for dealing with frustrated writers. Instead of getting angry at them, I am able to understand their side of the issue and empathize with them. One question that arises from this article, however, is whether there are situations where this approach is not applicable and the writers should be reported or told to leave. If so, what types of situations are those? And how do consultants draw the line?
Lape, Noreen. “Training Tutors in Emotional Intelligence: Toward a Pedagogy of Empathy.” The Writing Lab Newsletter, vol. 33, no. 2, 2008, p. 1-6.
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My immediate question with this is, how do you walk the line between validating the writer to calm them down and goading them on? I would have expected the opposite reaction, that validating, say, frustration or anger would increase the writer’s emotion – after all, if my consultant agrees with me, I must be right to be angry.