Advising is More Than a Yes/No Business:
How to Establish Rapport and Trust with Your Students
Authored by, Sue Ohrablo
Academic advisors are relied upon to answer questions, deliver information, provide resources, and interpret policies for students. Comprehensive developmental advising goes well beyond these transactions (Ohrablo, 2010), as advisors can significantly contribute to a student’s success and development by engaging students in academic planning, as well as facilitating decision-making, goal-setting, and problem resolution. In order to engage students in comprehensive developmental advising, advisors must establish trust and rapport with their students (Fox, 2008). Components to building trust and rapport include availability, responsiveness, reliability, knowledge, effectiveness, advocacy, caring, and concern.
Availability, Responsiveness, and Reliability
A key factor in establishing trust with students is to let them know you are there. Too often, advising administrators field complaints from students who claim, “My advisor is never there,” or “My advisor never returns my calls or emails.” While some of these claims may be an outcome of unrealistic expectations of students, many can be substantiated. Students will eventually give up and even avoid advisors who they consider to be unavailable. One strategy for conveying availability is to answer the phone when it rings. Of course, this is a simplification of an advisor’s daily experience, for the advisor may be on the phone with another student, in a student appointment, in meetings, orientation, or working on a complex degree audit. However, advisors are encouraged to pick up the phone when they are able, resisting the temptation to let the call go to voicemail and address it later. It is reinforcing to an advisor when a student’s voice lifts in pleasant surprise or relief when you answer the call. It also helps advisors keep up with their workload and avoid a backlog of messages. A strategy to convey both availability and responsiveness is to return phone calls and emails in a timely manner. Many advising departments have established expectations that advisors return student inquiries within 24-48 hours. During slower periods, it may be feasible to return an email within minutes of its arrival. During peak periods, 48 hours seems impossible. However, if an advisor can usually respond to emails and voicemails within the same work day, she will develop a reputation as being responsive. For those times when an advisor is delayed due to high student traffic or lack of follow-up from other departments, simply communicating the status of his inquiry to a student helps alleviate the student’s anxiety and build trust. A statement such as “I have sent your request on to our registrar’s office and will let you know when a decision has been made” informs the student that you have not forgotten about him or are ignoring his inquiry. Advisors who demonstrate consistency with students will develop a reputation as being reliable. Strategies for conveying reliability include establishing routines and protocols, such as monthly communications to students, registration reminders, and invitations for student appointments. Additionally, advisors who are perceived as being reliable are provided leeway from students when the advisor is delayed in responsiveness due to illness or extenuating circumstances. Comments such as “I hope you are ok. It’s not like you not to respond” indicate that the student has come to trust in the advisor’s reliability.
Students will develop trust in an advisor who demonstrates knowledge and expertise. Some effective ways to demonstrate knowledge are to provide useful resources to students, cite and interpret policies and procedures, make appropriate referrals, and anticipate issues not identified by the student (Burt, Young-Jones, Yadon, & Carr, 2013). Of course, no advisor is perfect, nor can know everything. While many advisors, especially new ones, hesitate to admit they don’t know something, damage can be done by giving students inaccurate or incomplete information. Making statements such as “I want to give you the most comprehensive information I can, so I will research this issue and get back to you with my findings” will communicate to students that the advisor is committed to giving them high quality service. Advisors are encouraged to learn more about those areas, policies, departments, resources with which they are unfamiliar or inexperienced. An effective strategy is to develop a “go-to network” of colleagues who will be able to provide information and explain procedures to the advisor, as well as help advisors resolve problems on behalf of students (Goodner, 2007). When students respond with statements such as “This is the most helpful information I’ve gotten since I began this program,” the advisor can be assured that her knowledge has been conveyed.
Advisor effectiveness is evident when responsiveness and knowledge are converted into action. Some strategies to convey effectiveness include processing documents in a timely manner, proactively identifying issues with records and making necessary adjustments, resolving problems, removing barriers, and providing students with options while engaging in planning (Folsom, Joslin, & Yoder, 2005). When a student asks, “How do I request an incomplete?” an effective advisor will talk with the student about the reason for the request, the circumstances involved, the implications on financial aid eligibility and academic standing, the effect on future enrollment, and identify options other than receiving an incomplete. New advisors may struggle to develop effectiveness, as they may not have acquired the necessary information or training they need. Experienced advisors are at risk of diminishing their effectiveness as questions become routine and responses may become automated. Students will develop trust and rapport with an advisor who communicates that he can be relied on to follow through and has the best interests of the student in mind. A student response such as “I am very grateful for the many questions of mine you answer” communicates to an advisor that the student is confident in the advisor’s effectiveness.
A critical role of advisors is to be a student advocate. Advocacy exists when an advisor has the student’s best interests in mind and can take action on behalf of a student. Listening to a student and understanding her perspective is an important initial step in becoming an advocate. Helping students to strategically navigate the university with detailed information such as “Call financial aid and ask them if dropping this course will impact your Satisfactory Academic Progress,” or picking up the phone to a colleague in financial aid and asking that question on the student’s behalf are methods of conveying advocacy. Advocacy does not always mean trying to give the student what she wants; it is doing what is in the best interest of the student. For example, a student may demand that her tuition from a previous semester be refunded and her F grade be removed. An advocate will take the time to explore the reason for the request, as well as identify all possible outcomes of her requested action. If her request may negatively impact her financial or academic standing, the advisor is demonstrating advocacy by assisting the student in understanding the implications of her request and identifying viable options. Advisors are cautioned to avoid infusing personal feelings into the decision to advocate for a student. Promises made by an advisor in order to look like an advocate, “I will make sure your grade is changed,” or avoiding advocacy due to frustration with a student, “She always misses deadlines, why should I help her?” are not student-focused decisions (Landon, 2007).
Caring and Concern
Advisors identify their role and purpose along a wide spectrum of characteristics and attributes (Kuhn, Gordon, & Webber, 2006). Some advisors prioritize the dissemination of accurate information, while others believe that it’s more important to be kind and supportive. In reality, it is essential that advisors integrate a multitude of skills in order to effectively establish trust and rapport with students (Fox, 2008). Advisors must care for their students. Even during the most hectic, busy time of the year, when the advisor is inundated with emails, forms, and administrative tasks, care for the student must take center stage (Hughey, 2011). Demonstrating compassion for students, engaging in reflective listening, and following up on student life experiences (such as loss of family member or illness) are all ways to demonstrate caring and concern. Concern can also be expressed through proactive outreach and inquiry following a significant event for a student. For instance, a student who fails a course and is repeating it may appreciate a call from his advisor asking how the course is going. Advisors are challenged with balancing multiple priorities within a limited timeframe, and it can be difficult to infuse caring and concern into each interaction with students. Advisors are encouraged to resist the tendency to complete a transaction and move on to the next without taking into consideration the humanity of each student.
Due to the hectic nature of an academic advising, academic advisors are challenged with balancing multiple administrative duties while maintaining a student-centered approach to advising (Self, 2008). With increasing advisee loads and on-going deadlines to meet, relationship building is at risk of being minimized as a priority among busy advisors. Advisors are encouraged to incorporate these components of advising and rapport building into each interaction they have with students. Ultimately, these characteristics will positively impact the student experience, and will contribute to student satisfaction and retention.
Doctoral Enrollment Counselor / Program Professor
Abraham S. Fischler School of Education
Nova Southeastern University
References and Suggested Readings:
Burt, T.D., Young-Jones, A.D., Yadon, C.A. & Carr, M.T. (2013, Number 2). The advisor and instructor as a dynamic duo: Academic Motivation and Basic Psychological Needs. NACADA Journal, 33(2), 44-54.
Folsom, P.,Joslin, J., & Yoder, F. (2005). From advisor training to advisor development: Creating a blueprint for first-year advisors. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Training-Blueprint-for-New-Advisors.aspx.
Fox, R. (2008). Delivering One-to-One Advising Skills and Competencies. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed.) (pp. 342-355). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Goodner, M. (2007). Managing information: Institutional information. In P. Folsom & B. Chamberlain (Eds.), The new advisor guidebook: Mastering the art of advising through the first year and beyond (Monograph Series, Vol. 16, pp. 51-58). Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.
Hughey, J.K. (2011, Fall). Strategies to enhance interpersonal relations in academic advising. NACADA Journal, 31(2), 22-32.
Kuhn, T., Gordon, V.N., & Webber, J. (2006, Spring). The advising and counseling continuum: Triggers for referral. NACADA Journal, 26 (1), 24-31.
Landon, P. A. (2007). Advising ethics and decisions. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/tabid/3318/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/581/article.aspx
Ohrablo, S. (2010). Developmental advising in an on-demand world. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Developmental-advising-today.aspx
Self, C. (2008). Advising delivery: Professional advisors, counselors, and other staff. In V. N. Gordon, W. R. Habley, & T. J. Grites (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (2nd ed.) (pp. 267-278). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Varney, J. (2009). Strategies for success in distance advising. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Distance-advising-strategies.aspx
Cite this using APA Style as:
Ohrablo. S. (2014). Advising is more than a yes/no business: How to establish rapport and trust with your students. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/Advising-is-More-Than-a-YesNo-Business--How-to-Establish-Rapport-and-Trust-with-Your-Students.aspx