Advising, Consulting, & Counseling Students

Advice giving is the last step in the process!! One needs a clear grasp of the individual's problem before accurate advice can be given and accepted. First, the advice seeker needs to feel comfortable, respected as a person, and that his/her problem (whether it be course program planning, academic difficulties, or personal/interpersonal problems) is understood. Without this, your great wisdom, wonderful advice falls on deaf ears.


Nonverbals are first in importance: they communicate respect and can raise the comfort level.
Invite into your office and close the door -- assure privacy. NOTE; It is important to ask, "Would you prefer the door open or closed when we meet?"
Don't permit interruptions -- demonstrate respect.
Be open to the speaker (open body language; no barriers such as big desks between you) -- show respect and attention.
Make eye contact, don't do a lot of writing or other things while the student is trying to talk to you -- show respect and attention.

Face the student and even incline your body ever so slightly towards him/her -- communicate focus and show attention.

Verbal Input

Verbal input is second in importance, and the following are in order of importance.

Actively listen. This calls for paraphrasing and acknowledgment of feelings being expressed by tentatively identifying them. Active listening helps you get a clear handle on the problem of this particular student so your advice can be more accurate and specific to that individual. Active listening also helps the advice seeker feel/believe that you do understand his/her problem.
Before giving any advice, inquire as to what ideas, action plans, etc., the student might have. Often advice is not really wanted; what may actually be wanted is validation.

Your "advice" most likely will take one of the following three forms:

a) validation with, perhaps, some additional suggestions.
b) direct suggestions, information, advice in those areas of you expertise.
c) referral information and, perhaps, assistance.

Active Listening

Listening that truly involves the listener (vs. passive listening). The skill of active listening includes three sub-skills:

Attending Behavior -- non-verbally communicating "I am interested in what you have to say" or "I want to hear what you have to say" or "I'm not afraid of what you have to say."

a) Eye contact with the other person
b) Body open to the other person (arms and legs uncrossed)
c) Face the other person
d) Incline body toward the person (in some cultures this is not acceptable)
Listening for content and letting the other person know you have heard the main ideas, data, etc. by paraphrasing--summarizing or briefly restating in your own words the main ideas of what the other person has said.

Listening for the feeling(s) being communicated and letting the other person know what you heard (and accept) his/her feelings by tentatively "Naming the feeling":

Student:"My car is a junk heap! The brakes, the fuel pump and tires have all gone bad!!! The plugs needed changing and even the wiring is messed up. I've spent hundreds of dollars on that stupid car!"

Listener:"It sounds as if you are feeling frustrated (name the feeling) because your car has had so many things go wrong with it and it is costing you an awful lot of money! (stating the feeling)."

Uses of Active Listening Skills

One must use both one's ears and eyes to actively listen: Ears to hear the content and Eyes to "hear" the feelings which are being expressed more in non-verbals than in the words.
HELPING OTHERS WITH PROBLEMS - When someone is upset or hurt, the first things that he/she wants is someone to understand (to empathize). The first thing he/she does not want is advice. Advice comes after communicating understanding.
KEEPING A CONVERSATION GOING - Even if you think yourself a poor conversationalist, you can do your part by being a good listener: Paraphrasing, identifying feelings, and asking clarifying or open-ended questions. Good questions are "What" questions: "What did you like about the movie?" rather than simply: "Did you like the movie?" Poor questions are "Why" questions that evoke only "Yes" or "No" responses. "Why" questions are poor because they tend to put the other person on the defensive. "Yes" or "No" questions are poor because they do little to keep the conversation going.

EXPRESSING OPINIONS - When controversial topics are being explored, your active listening of the other person's position acknowledges his/her right to an opinion and that acknowledgment is your ticket to your right to have your opinion, ideas, and perceptions heard. Exploration of opinions usually takes one of two forms: discussion or debate. In both of these, you have the rights and in both of these certain skills are necessary:


  • to have one's ideas, opinions, beliefs, perceptions, etc.
  • to make mistakes - to be wrong
  • to change
  • to stop and think
  • to privacy and not share opinions if you so choose

Communication "Lead" Suggestions

Here are some phrases that are useful, when you trust that your perceptions are accurate, and when the other person is receptive to your communication.

You feel... What I hear you saying...
From your point of view... You're...(identify the feeling, i.e. angry, sad, overjoyed)
It seems to you... I'm picking up that you...
In your experience... From where you stand...
I really hear you saying that... As you see it...
Where you're coming from is... You think...


Phrases that are useful when you are having some difficulty perceiving clearly, or it seems that the other person might not be receptive to your communication:

Could it be that... Maybe you feel...
I wonder if... Is it conceivable that...
I'm not sure I'm right, but... Maybe I'm out to lunch, but...
Would you buy this idea... Maybe this is a long shot, but...
What I guess I'm hearing is... I'm not sure if I'm with you, do you mean...
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not certain I understand, your feeling...
Is it possible that... It seems that...
Could this be what's going on... As I hear it, you...
From where I stand you... that the way it is?
This is what I think I hear... that what you mean?
You appear to be feeling... that the way you feel?
Is there any chance that you... Let me see if I understand; you...
I somehow sense that maybe you feel... I get the impression that...
Let me see if I'm with you, you...  



Discussion: is the sharing of ideas, the expansion of perspectives. It suggests a "Win-Win" attitude and is, thus, assertive.
Debates: is the imposition of ideas, opinions, perceptions: "My view is better than yours." It suggests a "win-lose attitude and is thus, aggressive.
SKILLS: Active Listening and Questioning
In discussion emphasize the active listening
In debates emphasize questioning (keep the opposition on the defensive).
Ask for definition of terms, support data, references.


Frequently you may find yourself in a debate when you thought you were in discussion. When you realize that you are debating and not discussing, decide if you wish to remain in the debate. If you decide you do wish to debate, make sure to use your right to stop and think and emphasize your questioning skills. If you decide you do not wish to debate, exercise you right to be yourself and opt out: "We have different views on this. I'd rather not debate the issue. Let's discuss something else."

Receiving Criticism, Complaints, Aggressive Behavior or Defensive Behavior

The best way to keep a difficult situation on a person-to-person level is for you to respond as an "adult:" hold back on communicating at the same level as the other person; instead, try to actively listen to what he/she is communicating. This usually has the effect of bringing the irate or upset person to a more adult level at which the issue can be discussed with a degree of calmness.

SOURCE: Ruthann Fox-Hines, Ph.D