Listening and asking questions

  • Sometimes it is clear what your advisee is saying, and you can provide a response, or suggest who can help. At other times, it is not so clear what is wanted, and you may need to ask for more information. Being able to listen is an important first step for you to take.

    Being listened to, and heard accurately, can help a student think clearly and this support may be all they need to help them with their next steps.

    On this page, you will find advice on adopting a coaching style and on structuring the conversation.

    Adopting a coaching style

    As an Academic Adviser, it is imperative that you keep the focus very much on the advisee, and the development of their understanding and insights into their own behaviours and attitudes. By adopting a coaching style, you are able to support your advisees to become more independent learners. 

    • Be clear and positive about the time you can offer now.
      'I can give you five minutes...'
    • Listen. Don't talk too much.
    • Think about the impact of what you say.
    • Try to reflect back to them what they are saying.
      'So you feel really fed up...' or check that you have understood by briefly summarising, 'Can I make sure I've got this right? What I think you're saying is...'
    • Ask open questions.
      'Can you tell me about...'

    Remember that your advisee may assume that your conversation is confidential. If it touches on sensitive matters, ask if they mind you making a written record of it, and tell them that they are welcome to look at your notes before they leave.

    It is helpful to send an email summary of any further action you have agreed (e.g. referral to another service, applying for mitigating circumstances). This can be particularly important if your advisee has seemed distressed or anxious in the meeting.

    Finlay & Wood (2011) make plain the distinction between tutoring, mentoring and coaching in a short video demonstration of three very different 'flavours' of conversation, which result in different outcomes for the learner in each case.

    Structuring a conversation

    Here are three brief examples of how you might structure the conversation you have with your advisees.

    1. Keeping it simple

    A straightforward framework for a conversation is to think of it as having three parts:

    • What's going on for you now?
    • What's been happening?
    • What outcomes are you looking for?

    It can be helpful to note key points of a conversation using these headings.

    2. Following a coaching model

    A more detailed alternative to the straightforward conversational framework is the GROW model, which is widely used in coaching conversations and is well suited to academic advising. The four stages are:

    • Goals,
    • Reality,
    • Options and
    • Wayforward

    The different stages are explained in more detail, and with case studies, on the PC3 project website.

    3. The 'Neighbour Model' from healthcare

    An alternative is the Neighbour Model, derived from healthcare, in which there are five stages:

    • Connecting (rapport-building)
    • Summarising (listening and eliciting)
    • Handing over (communication)
    • Safety-netting (predicting)
    • Housekeeping (taking care of yourself)

    The Neighbour Model has been used successfully to support advisees learning at a distance at Brookes.

    Responding to an advisee

    Andrew Kerry, Academic Adviser in Nursing Studies, on how to respond to an advisee needing time out.

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    Being prepared to engage

    Constantine Sandis, Academic Adviser in History, Philosophy and Religion, on being prepared to engage in personal matters.

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