Conflict resolution techniques are vital in a placement. Even if your placement is going well, conflict is a natural part of life and human relationships. When viewed this way, conflict in any living arrangement seems inevitable.
That can sound scary and is often the reason many families choose not to host an Au Pair. Living with a new adult in the household isn’t for everyone. However, there are ways to set yourself up for success right from the start.
Proactiveness is One of the Best Conflict Resolution Techniques
One of the best strategies in conflict resolution is being proactive. Not only does this prevent needless conflict, but it helps you quickly resolve conflict if it does arise.
1. Know yourself & what you can live with
Even if hosting an Au Pair sounds like an adventure to you and your family, it’s important to know yourself. Ask yourself what you can and cannot live with. Identifying these things in advance will help you find the best match. For example, if you have asthma, you probably wouldn’t want to hire an Au Pair who smokes.
This goes both ways. Before extending an offer, it’s important to find out what each Au Pair can and cannot tolerate. If you have pets, you’ll want to make sure an Au Pair is okay living with animals before matching.
2. Set expectations & communicate boundaries
Knowing what you need in a living arrangement isn’t enough. To be a successful host, you must communicate this to your Au Pair (and even to other members of your family and household).
You can set expectations as early as the interview stage. Talk with each Au Pair about her boundaries, your personal boundaries, and the kids’ needs. Discussing things that absolutely must happen in your household ensures that your Au Pair knows what to expect before she even arrives.
3. Remember that it’s always a work in progress
What worked for you a month ago may not work for you today. Life is always changing, so your needs and expectations will also change.
Likewise, your Au Pair just started the adventure of a lifetime. Moving to a new country isn’t easy, and it will drastically change your Au Pair’s life. Be attuned to her needs, just as you are to your own. Keep open lines of communication to ensure you’re always on the same page.
When you do have a conflict, here are some strategies for ensuring a positive resolution…
Whether big or small, conflict is essentially inevitable. When you feel the need to address something with your Au Pair, use these strategies to ensure a successful conversation and positive conflict resolution.
4. If something bothers you, address it ASAP (even if it’s “no big deal”)
When you live with another person, there are a hundred little things that can annoy you. It’s easy to think it’s no big deal, or that you’re overreacting, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in your household. You and your Au Pair should feel comfortable talking about anything that bothers you, big or small. Some pet peeves seem small at first but eventually grow into something that weighs on you more and more.
If something bothers you, even a little, address it as soon as you can. Your Au Pair will feel better knowing that you’re comfortable being honest about how you feel. This will likely help her feel comfortable being honest with you, too.
5. See the other side
When something bothers you, it often seems like it was done on purpose. One Au Pair told me about a situation in which he had accidentally parked on the grass. His Host Family thought he parked there on purpose, out of laziness. In reality, he was still learning to park and didn’t even realize the tires were on the grass.
I should mention, this was a wonderful Host Family who had a wonderful relationship with their Au Pair. They weren’t trying to be mean and they didn’t purposely jump to conclusions.
When the Host Family brought it up, the Au Pair was mortified that they thought it was on purpose. However, because they talked about it immediately, they were able to clear up the misunderstanding. Later, his Host Family spent more time working with him on parking their big SUV.
This kind of misunderstanding is common. You can avoid this by imagining two or three different reasons why someone might have done something, and focusing on the positive potential reasons. When you approach your Au Pair to ask her why something happened, you will be more open-minded to hearing her answer and you’ll be more likely to come across as non-accusatory.
Here’s an easy conversation opener you can try: “I wanted to talk with you about something. I noticed [action, use facts you observed]. Was it because of [positive potential reason] or [positive potential reason]?”
“Hey, I wanted to talk to you about something. I noticed that when you came home today, you parked on the grass. Did you know that parking on the grass is harmful to the lawn? Or are you still practicing parking the SUV?”
- This conversation opener doesn’t assume any emotion on the part of the Au Pair. Instead, it justs observes the facts.
- The questions posed offer positive reasons why this might have happened. This shows your Au Pair that you’re willing to hear them out, and you aren’t jumping to conclusions.
- This conversation opener is one of the most effective conflict resolution techniques, and not just between you and your Au Pair. Try it with colleagues, family, and friends, too!
6. Be kind & understanding
Even if you don’t like the other person’s answer, maintain a kind, understanding demeanor. If your Au Pair has done something you don’t like, no matter what the reason, this presents an opportunity to set boundaries.
Using kind words during your conversation will help you find a middle ground. Au Pairs generally want to do a good job and impress their Host Parents. Chances are, they’ll be more than willing to respect your boundaries and offer solutions that might work for you and your family.
When you are understanding during a difficult conversation, you teach your Au Pair that they can come to you with anything.
Some potential reasons your Au Pair might do something you don’t like:
- They didn’t know you wouldn’t like it (either because you didn’t say so, or because they didn’t understand when you said so). This is an opportunity to clarify your needs.
- They misinterpreted what you meant (either because it doesn’t translate the same in their home language, or because etiquette is different in their home country). This is an opportunity to talk about cultural differences and ways to bridge the language barrier to ensure you’re on the same page.
- They knew about your preferences but forgot, and would appreciate a helpful reminder. Talk about ways that would be effective for your Au Pair to remember next time.
- They tried their hardest and simply fell short of your expectations. In this case, they would likely appreciate some support from you. It may also be wise to evaluate why there was a gap between your expectations and the reality, and how you can meet in the middle.
Conflict Resolution Works Both Ways…
No living arrangement works if it’s just one-sided. Be sure to encourage your Au Pair to address anything that bothers her, as well. Do this from Day 1—even as early as the interview.
Open communication is the key to a successful placement and comfortable living arrangements. If you use these strategies, you’re sure to come out ahead of conflict and minimize any hard feelings that might arise in the process. Plus, you’ll have the added advantage of knowing you can talk to each other about anything!
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