After the presentation in class on preparing for the feedback meeting, I was reminded about the importance of using assertive and authentic language in my job. Block thinks being assertive is stating directly how you see the problem while not putting others down in the process (Block, pg. 221). The danger in being too aggressive in your language increases the amount of resistance you will get from the client and risks damaging the relationship. As an advisor, I try to be as assertive and supportive as possible. If I have a student where I’m quickly seeing patterns of course withdraws or D or F grades in required business courses, I know he or she is not likely to succeed as a business major and want to help him or her get back on track toward degree completion. The School of Business has a deadline policy, which is heavily enforced by upper administration. If students don’t meet certain requirements by a certain time, then he or she needs to change their major outside of business. Coming from a helping/consulting mindset, however, involves not trying to alienate a student when telling them he or she has failed to meet expectations. In other words, I don’t want to make the student feel dumb and hopeless. I also don’t want to risk the student leaving VCU entirely (retention is key!). It’s my job to state the policy very directly and assertively, so they know early on that there are high expectations one must meet in order to be accepted into the business school.
I mirror Block’s technique in my advising/feedback meetings by describing what I’m seeing using the transcript without evaluating it. I’m simply presenting a clear, specific picture of the situation and letting the student do the analyzing of the situation. I’m also careful to use supportive language that assists them in developing a parallel plan. Block says “People need support in order to have the strength to take responsibility for problems” (Block, pg. 226). It’s still part of my job to assist students in their learning and development, so talking about possible changes that need to be made is essential. Most of the time students know what I’m going to say before I have to say it and already understand what needs to change. I think underneath the surface is the student’s own anxieties about finally dealing with their problems or perhaps facing up to their parents that business is really not the major for them. Just like any consultant, my goal is to have our advising/feedback meetings be the beginning of some positive action.
When reading about Schein’s ORJI cycle, I thought about situations where I’ve fallen into a misperception trap that resulted with an inappropriate response based upon incorrect data. In my role as an academic advisor, I misjudge a student’s academic ability because I see a a bad midterm grade. A lot of times, however, advisors don’t know the full story until the student comes in to meet us for the first time and tells us about other issues like mental health, family, or personal relationships that have affected their ability to successfully complete assignments. There’s always more to the story than what’s at face value. Therefore, I try not to judge my students based on what I see on a transcript. I’m reminded again of how important it is when consulting/advising to be aware of your biases. Or, as Schein likes to call them perceptual filters that determine how we interpret an event and respond.
In my role as consultant for this course, I continually find myself filtering data that was not what I “expected” or “anticipated” based on my prior experience with my clients. I play a unique role as consultant because I’m close colleagues with my clients already. I’ve collaborated with both Claire and Doug for over four years doing events like new student orientation programming. They also come and present to my classes I teach to discuss the importance of getting engaged at the School of Business. I fall into the misperception trap of not seeing some of the gaps or areas for improvement when working with these people for so long. I feel as though this project has been a great way for me to be aware of my biases toward that office. I think Claire and Doug are great people and therefore see only the great things they do. The results of the student survey opened my eyes to issues that I never knew existed. I have to say I was surprised at the lack of communication between student organizations and the Office of Student and Alumni engagement. My own bias toward Doug and Claire led me to assume that I thought there were great communication channels in place already. I definitely think this project has allowed me to see the inevitable flaws/challenges that every office faces. I am impressed that Doug and Claire are aware of the issue, and am thankful they brought it to my team for us to help them. I don’t want to discount all the amazing programs and events they do run well in that office. I just wanted this blog to be a reflection of how I need to continually access my ignorance. Schein states that “Accessing one’s ignorance by actively figuring out what one does not know is, in the end, one of the most important tools available” (Schein, 1999, pg. 98).
I’m even more appreciative that I get the opportunity to consult with a team. My team has helped me see things or ask questions that I normally wouldn’t have asked because I’ve assumed the office would have already done that. Because my team members are a true neutral party, they help me to use what Schein calls as systematic checking procedures where we are asking questions, using silence, and maintaining a spirit of inquiry (Schein, 1999, pg. 97-98). My team has helped me clarify the real problem in that office. I think this project would have been a lot harder had I done it alone and with people I already knew. I think internal consultants must have a harder time staying unbiased, which makes Schein’s recommendations for avoiding misperception traps all the more important.