T.J. Sullivan

“Please don’t hesitate to ask…”

Have you ever, as a student leader, said something like this? “If you ever have a question or a concern, my door is open.”

“Please don’t hesitate to ask.”

Having an open door sounds great, but of course, it puts the burden of initiative on those you serve.  They need to seek you out to share an idea. Their concern needs to feel important enough to interrupt whatever else you’re doing.  For many, especially in this text messaging generation, it’s like saying, “Please feel free to jump a plane to Paris and enjoy a croissant.”

Yes, it’s possible, but not terribly practical.  It’s not worth the hassle or the weirdness.

If you want to truly be in touch with what your constituents or your members, you have to take the initiative. That means going where they are.  Asking them how they feel.  Solicit their opinions. Don’t wait for them to offer or come find you.

Do not expect them to come to a meeting, place themselves on an agenda, and ask a question in front of a group of people.  Most won’t.

Do not expect them to write you an email, seek you out during office hours, or take part in some sort of town hall public forum.  All those ideas seem reasonable to you – the student leader who lives to take initiative – but the quiet ones aren’t going to step up to those opportunities.

And the quiet ones are the ones whose opinions matter most.  If you only listen to the small group that seeks you out, you aren’t getting the real picture.

Go sit in their rooms.  Go sit in their meetings and listen.  Eat at their lunch tables.  Make them feel comfortable with you so that, eventually, they’ll feel comfortable sharing what they really think.

It’s not enough to make yourself available these days.  You have to make yourself familiar, non-threatening, approachable.  When you are all of these things, then perhaps the emails, phone calls and text messages will come.

6 Responses to ““Please don’t hesitate to ask…””

  1. Mary Lois says:

    I agree, I believe that sometimes it’s hard to go and talk to someone especially when they say that their door is always open. Personally, half the time they are not available when you do want to go talk to them about an issue. Or that they are too busy to listen to what you have to say. It happens a lot in college with professors that always say, “Come to my office, my door is always open.” I have been to their office but they are either no where to be found or the professor says to go make an appointment and come back. Well that is very helpful! HA! Thanks for your encouragement and I will try to use those tips.

    Mary Lois Hanna
    Southern Miss

  2. Rachael Loper says:

    I completely agree with you on this. I find it hard to go meet with a leader of the group or ask them a question even if they say their more than happy to answer any of my questions. Alot of the time I find it alot easier to go to the person if they have made a point to go out of their way to make me feel comfortable with them. Once I step out of my comfort zone and ask a question or advice I find that it’s not as awkward as I expected! Many leaders have a hard time reaching out to their followers or their group on a personal level, but if they could improve in this they would find people would be more open to talk to them! I think you explained it perfect in this blog!
    -Rachael at USM

  3. Collin Crowson says:

    I agree with you 100% on this. It is sometimes very hard to go up to someone and talk to them about a problem you have, especially an important leader of an organization. Even if they do say that their door is open, you might feel like they don’t want to listen to someone talk about their problems right now or something along those lines. It takes a lot of courage to talk to someone about something that you are dealing with in your life. It would be a good thing for leaders to go around and sit in someones room and get to know them and what is going on in their life. Your tips have been very helpful and informative. Thanks

    Collin Crowson
    Southern Miss

  4. Cally Biagini says:

    As a student, I have definitely dealt with this situation many times. Professors and even administrators use the phrase “My door is always open” way too often because it makes them feel like their job is done. They rest easy knowing that they at least made us feel like we can come to them. In the Greek community, this phrase is also used frequently, but we try to handle it a little differently. Our leaders make us feel comfortable with coming to them by not only extending the offer, but asking us personally to do so. Instead of saying, “These are the ideas we have for this upcoming event. If you have any others, please feel free to stay after meeting and tell us.” That probably wouldn’t generate many responses because it requires confidence and intiative that many are afraid to show. Instead you will hear, “These are the ideas we have, but we really want more. Try to think of some and let us know.” By making us feel like they actually are asking us to come, we feel more comfortable with doing so. And like you said in your blog, being comfortable is the key!
    -Cally Biagini at USM

  5. Kyle Nixon says:

    This was the perfect blog for today!I was just having a conversation about how everyone needs that person who is willing to listen to them. Whether it’s a professor, an administrator in student affairs or a fellow member of an organization, people appreciate that extra time to just talk and allow someone to listen. And I agree, the shy and quiet student usually needs it the most — and it is usually easy to pick out that student in a crowd, but sometimes we choose not to. Being in a leadership role at Southern Miss, I sometimes have to remind myself to authentically listen and care about the concerns of others. It’s definitely a challenge. But at the same time a reward once they feel welcomed!

    Thanks, TJ. I look forward to engaging in discourse via your blog!

    Southern Miss

  6. Paige LeBlanc says:

    This is a really great point. I use those phrases quite often and don’t really think anything of it, because a lot of times, people do come to me with questions or concerns. I’m definitely the type of person to take the initiative, so I tend to forget that not everyone is like me. This really made me think and re-evaluate my leadership style. It also brought to mind a few specific people who are at the opposite end of the spectrum and tend to ask questions at every turn. Do you have any advice on how to deal with those situations? Some people just need their opinion to be validated before they make a move, but is that really necessary all the time?


    Paige at Southern Miss

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