Communicating with First-Years

Communication skills are essential for successful advising. Providing information in a meaningful and clear way to your advisees and actively listening serves as a basis for their decisions. How you communicate with your advisees can have a profound influence on a first-year's entire life.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Allow your advisees or other first-years to tell their story first; do not interrupt their sentences, offer advice, or give suggestions (unless asked to).
  • Keep similar feelings or problems from your own experience to a minimum and try not to give the impression that you want to jump right in and talk.
  • Appreciate the emotion, voice intonation, and body language behind words. While this is not possible through email, it is more obvious face to face.
  • Establish consistent eye contact and use affirmative head nods. Avoid nervous or bored gestures and fight off external distractions.
  • Listen carefully and check your understanding. Paraphrasing what someone has said or asking a question can help clarify meaning and determine that you're on the same page.
  • Ask open-ended questions that enable you to discuss topics rather than allowing only "yes" or "no" responses.
  • Talk about their backgrounds and experiences and get to know their interests, as well as their academic and career goals.
  • Keep notes about your conversations. A quick review before seeing students again will help you recall specific details. This is another important way to demonstrate your interest in them as individuals.

In addition, remember:

  • Respecting advisees does not mean that you must agree with all of their decisions. Your role is to help them make good decisions.
  • Don't make decisions for your advisees. Rather, encourage them to use the appropriate resources to make smart decisions to solve problems they may encounter.