Most faculty advisors feel capable of providing academic advice; however, many are less comfortable establishing a personal relationship. To help those faculty advisors who struggle to build a more personal relationship with advisees, this section focuses on the importance of an advisor's interactions with advisees and suggests practical ways to improve relationship building and communication with students. For a theoretical understanding of the advising relationship, you may visit the NACADA website at http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/ AdvisingIssues/Theory.htm.
Communicating with Students
Communication usually occurs before any words are spoken. Remember that advisees may be nervous, confused, or even upset when they meet with you. First, try to put them at ease. To do so, follow some simple methods:
- Stop other work and devote your attention to the student
- Refer to the student by first name
- Offer the student direction in where to sit
Using these methods will help the student feel valued and more at ease.
Paying Attention to Body Language
Another important (yet commonly overlooked) method to communicate interest in the student is body language. Use the following methods to send a message of openness and acceptance:
- Position yourself at an appropriate distance
- Maintain comfortable eye contact
- Keep yourself open—leave arms and legs uncrossed
Paying attention to non-verbal communication will reinforce the message that you are interested in the individual student.
Using Active Listening Skills
Perhaps the most important element in effective advising is good listening skills. Advisors should use active listening to understand what the advisee is really saying.
- Pay careful attention to the advisee's words
- Pay careful attention to the advisee's non-verbal communication (for instance, an advisee may tell you that everything is going well, but tone of voice, posture, expression, eye contact, etc. can tell you otherwise)
- Suspend judgment and wait for speaker to finish before responding (don't interrupt the advisee and jump right in to give your opinion; instead, listen, question, and help the advisee find the answer/solution)
- Focus on the central idea -- don't get lost in details
It is also a good technique while listening to clarify what you believe the student is saying:
- Note the content of student's message and feelings: repeat back, making sure you have heard correctly
- Communicate understanding of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors from the student's frame of reference (for example: "How do you feel about the professor's comments in class?")
Because one of the goals of academic advising is to help students learn how to problem solve, resist the temptation to take control of the discussion by interrupting, judging, criticizing, moralizing, or diagnosing. These actions put the focus on the advisor rather than on the advisee and hinder the opportunity for the advisee to learn how to solve the problem on his/her own.
Using Effective Speaking Skills
Another way to excel as an advisor is to practice effective speaking skills when meeting with students. Attempt to word all of your comments toward the understanding of the advisee's needs. Some examples:
- "Could it be that..."
- "I wonder if..."
- "What I'm hearing is..."
- "It seems you're feeling..."
- "I get the impression that..."
- "If I understand you..."
Wording your comments in such ways keeps the focus on the advisee.