Communications between academics can get quite violent quickly. With ‘violence’ I am not referring to people acting out physically…

With ‘violence’ I am referring to all of the kinds of communications that make you feel bad about yourself. You may feel indignation, anger, annoyence, grief, or sadness after having had a short conversation or an email exchange with one or more of your colleagues. You may be walking back to your office or looking away from your screen feeling rage and thinking up plans on how to deal with those colleauges next time around. Before you write something hurtful back to your colleagues, or before worsening your relationship with those colleagues by turning antsy on them, think about this alternative: use your feelings of indignation to better yourself and grasp the opportunity to improve yourself and your life.


might be your sceptic response.

‘Yes, seriously. I am not joking,’

is my response. Just bear with me while I inform you of a recent and very concrete event in my life where I felt such indignation and anger even. I was so totally annoyed with my colleague writing me such an agressive email, carbon copying it to my coordinator and a professor that I hold dear. Frankly, I felt embarrassed.

He wrote:

‘Only heartfelt silence is appropriate here.’

No salutation. No complimentary close. In fact, no close at all. Just one line of words that triggered me.

Reading those words, I could imagine his eyes rolling and really just being so fed up with me.

The short explanation of this line of words? I had seriously blundered. I forgot to send the evaluation form of a student’s capstone before I went on my summer leave. I had graded the final version and I had been impressed by the progress in the student’s work, but I had not completed the administrative cycle by sending that form to the coordinator. So this positive evaluation had been sitting in my computer, and because no-one knew I had evaluated her work, the coordinator had to find another reader, leading to an undesirable situation for all persons involved.

As I was sitting behind my desk, feeling both insecure, indignant and angry, I thought: ‘See, he has it in for me. He is just waiting for me to make a mistake and to let the world know that I blundered. He just wants to settle a score with me.’

Knowing that the professor I look up to received this line of words as well just made me feel embarresed. What did she think of me now?

My first sentiment…

…was to write something defensive and even aggressive back. I wanted to blame him and the coordinator for not asking me what was keeping the form from being handed over. Someone could have reminded me, no?

My second sentiment…

…was to really pity myself: I had been under such pressure to get into some kind of flow for a postdoctoral research project, while having to deal with a pile of capstones and writing reports of my own students.

My third hunch…

…was to do nothing for a moment and to just sit with my feelings and really ‘enjoy’ the pain, as the late American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg would certainly advice.

Now there was room to really make space for what was the deeper issue. There now was a student who felt that she had gotten a bad deal, and she was right. She needed to be reassured that her take on the situation was accurate. I had messed up, and she needed to hear that from me.

Realizing that I am 100% responsible for my behaviour, and that I want to be a 100% invested in non-violent communication – which I still have to learn how to do every single day, and every single day I mess up, and try again – I wrote my reply to all.

I informed my colleagues that I was more than willing to offer my sincere apologies to this student.

Sometimes, a heartfelt apology makes a world of difference in the sense of feeling seen and feeling respected.


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