Communication Currents

What Is My Advisee Thinking? Exploring Advisee Communication Motives

August 1, 2015
Interpersonal Communication

Through supportive interpersonal relationships, faculty academic advisors have the opportunity to facilitate positive college experiences for their advisees. These supportive interpersonal relationships can be developed when advisors take the time to use caring and confirming communication, both inside and outside the classroom, to let advisees know that they are valuable and significant individuals. Supportive interpersonal relationships are pivotal to advisees’ academic success because advisees who have an engaging and encouraging advisor are more likely to stay at their university, graduate from their university, and be engaged at work, thriving in their well-being post graduation.

Although advisors agree that effective advising is important, there is less widespread agreement on which advising style should be implemented, what activities fall under advising, and what level of responsibility should be associated with each activity. This lack of widespread agreement can be especially problematic when these unclear expectations are coupled with lack of training and preparation for the advising task. To better understand how advisees and advisors can cultivate a more fulfilling relationship and engage in effective advising, this study focused on determining what motives advisees had for engaging their advisors in communication outside the classroom. Understanding these advisee communication motives is important because interactions that occur within and outside the formal advising and registration period represent a context where the advisor and advisee can cultivate a supportive interpersonal relationship.

To learn more about these advisee communication motives, the first author interviewed 21 advisees who had been assigned to their current faculty academic advisor for at least one year. Talking to advisees helped us understand their communication motives from their perspective. We identified six advisee communication motives that emerged in these interviews.

Advisee communication motives include (a) relational, (b) functional, (c) encouragement, (d) participatory, (e) sycophanting, and (f) excuse-making:

  • The relational motive included instances where advisees tried to develop personal relationships with their advisors (e.g., advising could turn into a potential friendship and/or mentorship).
  • The functional motive included instances where advisees simply wanted to learn more about registration tools or class options (e.g., advising is a business relationship characterized by use and professionalism).
  • The encouragement motive included instances where advisees sought out “pick-me-up” statements or words of affirmation that were tailor-made to their interests and situation (e.g., advising provides compliments and encouragement that affirm an advisee’s actions).
  • The participatory motive included instances where advisees wanted to demonstrate to their advisors they were interested in the class and they understood the material (e.g., advising is another chance for a student to go over class material with a professor).
  • The sycophanting motive included instances where advisees communicated in a way they knew their advisor would approve of or tried to earn brownie points with their advisor (e.g., advising is an opportunity to secure benefits such as recommendation letters).
  • The excuse-making motive included instances when advisees attempted to explain why work was late or missing or tried to challenge grading criteria or a grade (e.g., advising is a time to fully explain a seemingly negative situation).

An advisee’s communication motives cannot be easily identified based on academic classification (i.e., first year, sophomore, junior, senior) alone. Instead, faculty academic advisors can view each advisee as an individual and determine the advisee’s motive(s) based on the initiation, frequency, and content of the communication outside the classroom. Once the motive has been identified, the faculty academic advisor may choose to accommodate his or her advisee’s needs. For example, an advisee with a relational motive would strongly appreciate an academic advisor who is open to the idea of an interpersonal relationship.

These findings suggest the faculty academic advisor-advisee relationship can be quite similar to the teacher-student relationship, especially in that an advisor’s behaviors in one context can affect the level of comfort and communication in another. However, the faculty academic advisor-advisee relationship remains a distinct area deserving of study. Moreover, the present study’s findings reveal there are numerous, inconsistent ideas of what can be defined as academic advising. These inconsistent ideas can make the academic advising process stressful for both the faculty academic advisor and advisee.

To avoid the stress caused by conflicting ideas of advising, faculty academic advisors should establish clear expectations with their advisees at the beginning of their relationship. Clear expectations can be established during a face-to-face meeting or via computer-mediated channels. Academic advising can be a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship if both parties participate in open dialogue about their expectations.

The various academic advisee communication motives contribute to a greater understanding of the academic advising relationship as a whole. When these motives are coupled with the faculty perspective, our discipline is one step closer to a universal definition of academic advising that promotes supportive and meaningful communication between the faculty academic advisor and advisee. The positive outcomes that stem from a mutually beneficial advising relationship facilitate not only a student’s persistence to graduation, but also the desire to succeed post graduation.

About the author (s)

Rebecca B. Leach

University of Montevallo

Undergraduate student

Tiffany R. Wang

University of Montevallo

Assistant Professor