4C. Communication Skills

Academic advising requires strong communication skills to forge reciprocal relationships with students.  A monologue of instructions, tips, and anecdotes, no matter how well-intentioned or entertaining, will not help the academic advisor understand what the student’s plans and goals are or if progress if being made toward graduation.  The expectation is not that academic advisors need to be warm, fuzzy, and gregarious people who only give students positive feedback. An academic advisor does not need to change his or her personality, but the academic advisor can learn to pay attention to what the student is communicating non-verbally, actively listen to the student, and intersperse appropriate probing questions to get the most out of the interaction.

The first step to communicating well with students is to provide a space where the student will feel comfortable and be able to see the advisor. The second step to communicating well is realizing that the academic advisor does not have control over how well the student communicates. The academic advisor can only model effective communication skills so the student may learn to mirror those skills back.

Remember that Non-verbal communication is a crucial component of the dialogue.

Of course it’s important for academic advisors to relay accurate and timely information, but a student will be less likely to complain about a mistake made by the academic advisor uses more open and inviting body language and voice over the academic advisor who uses closed body actions, and a sharp voice.

Active listening is more than hearing what the student says, it is a focused activity that requires concentration and attention, and even a little bit of talking. The first step to active listening is rather obvious – stop talking – at least in the beginning. Maintain good eye contact, move away from distractions, and lean slightly forward to indicate involvement in the conversation.  Reinforce the speaker by nodding or paraphrasing what the student said. Do not interrupt, and give the student time to finish what she or he has to say. Clarify by asking questions and then allow the student to answer.

Some questions are probing questions that require the student to dig deeper for a response.

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It’s particularly critical to pay attention to body language and voice when asking students questions. Students don’t want to feel like they are being interrogated. Whenever possible, ask action-oriented open-ended questions like, “How are you are dealing with the homework requirements for your courses,” instead of closed-ended questions like, “Are you doing well in your courses?”

What the Student Wants to Know (5C’s) 

Students tend to have specific questions that they want answered during the academic advising interaction. Oftentimes, student questions revolve around the 5 C’s:

  • Courses
  • Connecting
  • Careers
  • Confidence
  • Confusion

Students want to know what courses to take, how to connect to people and activities on campus, what career to pursue, how easy or difficult the academic journey will be, and may express frustration about how confusing it is to answer those questions.

What the Academic Advisor Wants to Know (WH4Y)

Academic advisors want to ask more general questions about the student and his or her plans. Oftentimes, academic advisor questions revolve around WH4Y:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • How
  • Why

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 It may seem like the student and academic advisor are at odds, especially for the first one or two academic advising interactions where the student wants to talk about registration and courses, whereas the academic advisor wants the student to stop and review why they want to be enrolled at UAF, how prepared the student is for the academic workload, and if the student’s interests and abilities are consistent with their educational and career plans. However, by actively listening to the student, clearing up any misconceptions or myths about academic life, judiciously probing the student’s reasons for being in her or his chosen major and how that impacts courses taken in upcoming semesters, and by displaying consistent body language and voice, the academic advisor and student can develop a mutually beneficial, working relationship.

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