4.1 Managing Relationships

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Users of this online learning resource are responsible for connecting with government and local organizations to ensure access to relevant information on refugee sponsorship in their community.

This section aims to provide you, as a sponsorship group member, with some information on ways of approaching relationships in the context of refugee sponsorship. It does not constitute or replace professional advice.




Communication in Refugee Sponsorship



The most important part of managing any relationship is communication. Many of us are comfortable managing our communications in professional and personal relationships. However, the relationship between sponsorship group members and refugee newcomers can give rise to specific communication considerations.

1. Shared language

Your group and refugee newcomers being able to communicate clearly and understand one another is a key to success in sponsorship and positive experiences for both. Of course, refugee newcomers might not speak the same language as those in your group, and everybody’s pace in language learning is unique. A few options to work toward shared language while it is developing could include:

  • Having interpreters present when meeting with the refugee newcomers for some time.
  • Using online translation services and mobile phone apps for emails and text messages.
  • Being aware of the possibility and likelihood of inaccurate or out-of-context translations. 

2. Power and assertiveness

Considering power inherent in any situation, including in sponsorship, includes working toward balance between refugee newcomers and your group. Assertiveness is a communication technique that you might find effective since it requires two-way communication, active listening, and respect for each others’ opinions. Since stressful situations are often when an assertive approach is most beneficial. Consider reflecting with your group on whether you tend towards passive or aggressive communication in stressful situations. 

This diagram demonstrates how different communication behaviors can have an impact on balanced power – in this case, ‘being heard’.

Assertive communication techniques that you could try include:

Open body language could signal that you are prepared to have a two-way conversation.

Balancing levels by matching the other person’s could neutralize a subconsciously offensive or defensive feeling. For example, sit with them or stand if they are standing.

‘I’ Statements can indicate that you are sharing your opinion, while allowing the other person to state theirs. For example, you could say ‘I think you could…’ rather than ‘You need to…’

3. Recognizing Boundaries

Your group might develop strong connections with refugee newcomers considering the intense moment in their lives that you are involved in supporting, and the trust that might include. Recognizing their boundaries will be important to show respect and encourage self-determination. Consider when you might be crossing boundaries or infringing on their privacy or autonomy.

4. Clarity and consistency

Aiming to keep communication as clear as possible to avoid misunderstandings arising from language barriers and power imbalance could include approaches such as:

  • Keep messages short; 
  • Written messages for important information; and
  • Visual references where appropriate and helpful (e.g. maps).

You might find that consistency in the group’s communication with refugee newcomers can help in managing expectations, and that seeking consensus on decisions and consistency in messages across the group avoids confusion. A few questions to consider could include:

  • How often does the group communicate with the refugee newcomers? 
  • What methods do you use and for what purposes? (Texts, email, calls, in-person, etc.) In-person conversations with interpretation for conversations that are particularly personal or complex (e.g. processes to access services, legal documents, budgets)
  • How can your group ensure members communicate consistent messages?



Scenario: Recognizing Boundaries



You and your group are sponsoring Fatima and her two children.

While you and Fatima are in the waiting room of the dentist’s
office, Fatima reveals to you that Martha, one of the group members, has been visiting Fatima’s apartment unannounced about once a week for the past month to discuss the budget. 

You ask Fatima how she feels about this, and she says she is okay because Martha has helped her a lot, just like the rest of the group. 

You are not sure if Fatima is only telling you she is comfortable so you do not react negatively.

How does this scenario present a situation involving a ‘power imbalance’?


What steps could the sponsorship group take?




Check In: What steps would you take?

What are the communication steps you would take with your sponsorship group to address the situation with Martha and Fatima? Describe them in your training journal.



Within the Sponsorship Group



Source: Refugee Hub/Kailee Brennan

Approaches to Sponsorship

Each member of your group brings their own experiences, attitudes, and skills to sponsorship and there is no single solution to any challenge. Some disagreement on approaches is common and is part of the value in working with others in sponsorship – a variety of perspectives! 

The way your group is organized, how roles are shared, and existing professional and personal relationships may affect group management and communication. Whatever the reality of your group, comfortably sharing perspectives and finding an approach on deciding next steps will be useful. Here are a few examples of topics that you may want to discuss within your sponsorship group:

Levels of Effort

There may also be differences in the amount of effort and time each group member contributes to the sponsorship. Working toward clarity on this might be useful to your group both at the group formation stage and throughout the sponsorship period to avoid stress, disappointment or frustration. With your group, you could consider openly discussing:

  • How much and in what ways will each person participate in the sponsorship?
  • How could this change during the sponsorship period? Brainstorm situations that could arise.
  • How can roles and responsibilities reflect the reality of the group now? Over time?



Scenario: Group Contribution



Your sponsorship group is supporting Abdul, Maha, and their son, Samir to adapt in their new community. 

Cassandra is responsible for organizing social events. Since the family’s arrival three months ago, she has met them once to learn about their interests and hobbies. She was supposed to organize a potluck after their arrival, but cancelled it because she could not find a place to host it. 
Some group members have reached out to Abdul and Maha to meet them, and other group members only met the family at the airport for their arrival.

You are having a sponsorship group meeting and each group member provides an update on what they have been doing. Cassandra says she is planning to enroll Samir on a soccer team and to organize a picnic for the sponsorship group and family. You think that some group members do not believe she will follow through.

What are the approaches the sponsorship group could consider in this scenario?

How should the sponsorship group approach communicating with Cassandra?



Check In: What if you were in Cassandra’s position?

What are the communication steps you would take with your sponsorship group to address the situation with Martha and Fatima? Describe them in your training journal.



Between Refugee Newcomers and Others



Source: UNHCR

Situations may arise where the refugee newcomers come into conflict with each other or with people outside of the sponsorship group. As a member of the sponsorship group, your goals in these instances include:

  • Keeping an open line of communication with the refugee newcomers;
  • Building trust and encouraging their autonomy; and 
  • Being sensitive to their challenges with others.



Conflict Resolution Scenario 1: Domestic Violence



Your group has been sponsoring Celestine, Pierre, and their children for the past several months. Pierre is a survivor of torture after having been arrested for leading a political group in his country of origin. 

During your sponsorship meeting today, Angela, a group member, shares that she has been very stressed as she witnessed Pierre raise his hand at Celestine at the grocery store last month. Celestine has also share with Angela that Pierre yells at her often, but immediately apologizes and tells her that he loves her very much. 

When Angela spoke to Pierre alone, Pierre noted that he struggles with anger, especially when Celestine threatens to leave him. She has left him on a couple of occasions and stayed with her friend, but has always returned. Celestine shared with Angela that she is not being physically abused, and Angela has noticed Celestine seeming to have low on energy for several weeks.

Last night Angela received a call from Celestine. The police came to the apartment because a neighbour heard loud yelling and objects being broken. The police did not charge anyone with a crime since there was no allegation or evidence of violence. However, the police suggested Celestine sleep somewhere else. Angela picked Celestine and the children up and they slept at Angela’s house. 

Celestine has asked Angela to not share this information with the group. Angela has told the group, hoping to develop an approach to dealing with the situation.

What immediate considerations are there when dealing with domestic violence?

How could the sponsorship group approach this situation?



Check In: What would you do?

When considering group communication, it can be very useful to put yourself in the shoes of someone who you disagree with or who you feel needs to be approached about their behavior. This way, we can consider how what we say, how we say it, and where we say it can have a large impact on managing the personal feelings involved. Thinking about the how this scenario relates to managing expectations, considering culture, considering power, and privacy and confidentiality, describe your thoughts in your training journal.



Conflict Resolution Scenario 2: Discrimination and Bullying




You and your group are sponsoring Adam, a gay refugee from the Middle East. 

One evening, Adam reveals to you that he wants to stop taking language classes at his school. 

He shares that the other students in the class are making homophobic remarks towards him, and the teacher does not seem to want to intervene.


How could the group support Adam in this scenario?



Check In: What would you say to Adam in this scenario?

Describe your thoughts in your training journal.



Your Own Wellbeing



As rewarding as refugee sponsorship can be, it is also an experience that is intense in ways that may overwhelm us. Adding to already busy lives, being aware of our own wellbeing throughout the sponsorship period might be helpful to everybody in your group, in addition to being mindful of each other’s wellbeing. 

Since we all come to refugee sponsorship with our own experiences, attitudes, and skills, the way that any of us handle what we find challenging, as well as what we find challenging, may vary. Working with refugee newcomers could include learning about stressful or traumatic realities in their experiences, and supporting them through expected and unexpected hardships as they adjust to their new community. This could bring out existing, new, or surprising things for us, depending on our unique experiences and attitudes. 

Unintended negative impacts

The unintended negative impacts of sponsorship could be non-existent or minimal for some of us, and of greater concern for others (e.g. vicarious trauma or burnout). Some examples of these impacts could include:

  • Over-identifying with refugee newcomers 
  • Being preoccupied by stories of trauma
  • Denying refugee newcomers’ trauma
  • Feeling great vulnerability and inadequacy
  • Alienation/disconnection from loved ones
  • No time or energy for oneself 
  • Despair, hopelessness, disillusionment
  • Sense of not being effective/productive
  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism and detachment
  • Insecurity

Signs of concern

Consider encouraging group members to reflect on and acknowledge signs of mental health and wellbeing concerns within themselves. Similarly, if you or a group member notice these signs in another person, consider checking in with them to see how they are doing and review the strategies below. Signs could include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impaired concentration and attention
  • Physical symptoms
  • Increased illness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Anger


  • Revisit mental health and apply similar steps to supporting your own wellbeing.
  • Aim for effective group communication
    Trying to ensure that each member of your group feels comfortable sharing difficulties in their experience of sponsorship could be done one-to-one and/or during check-ins at group meetings.
  • Be supportive of each other
    Consider the potential benefit or need for you or others’ to reduce involvement in the sponsorship for various reasons. This could re-energize the person to continue contributing in the long-term.
  • Try to be patient and kind to yourself
    You may find it useful to reflect on the reasons yourself or those in the group decided to sponsor initially, accomplishments so far.

Mental Health Works Training: Traumatic Stress and Compassion Fatigue OCASI (video)
The Tell Tell Signs of Burnout Psychology Today
Vicarious Traumatization – An occupational hazard for helping professionals Here To Help


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