I Mean This Most Kindly…

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The title phrase, borrowed from a dear British friend, has become a signal at our house that you should prepare to hear a hard truth. No one likes to be corrected, especially when our transgression results from ignorance. My 82-year-old mother still smarts at the memory of a respected teacher’s lesson in the difference between “pitcher,” a common Appalachian mispronunciation, and “picture.” I cringe when I recall a college roommate telling me that her mother was scandalized by my using a fork to stab my green beans rather than to scoop them up. It’s no fun at all to be called out for our misdeeds.

Which brings us back to our Tuesday topic: soft skills. Our college is making an effort to help our students improve the skills that will make them better employees and more successful citizens. We’ve had no trouble identifying areas that could use some serious improvements. The tricky part is knowing how to fix what so desperately needs fixing without alienating our audience. A recent inadvertent observation of a colleague’s advising session provides a good example.stop

The advisee arrived for her session with red flags a-flying. She had claimed that she’d been trying to reach her advisor, despite no evidence in phone or email records that this was so. She arrived very late, calling well after the scheduled hour to beg the advisor to wait for her. When the session finally began, she didn’t make eye contact or contribute to the conversation. She frequently monitored the continual buzzing of the cell phone in her lap.

Advisor (pointing to MAP template): “Now you need to look with me at this section right here. These are the developmental classes that you need to take to get you ready for college-level work.”

Student makes no response and continues to monitor cell phone.

Advisor: “You might need to turn your phone off until we finish this. This plan is really important for you to understand as you choose classes.”

Student nods, but phone continues frequent buzzing as student continues diligently monitoring.

Advisor: “You need to realize that if you are trying to get a job and talking to a prospective employer, you can’t be fiddling with that phone. You won’t get the job.”

Student finally puts phone away and participates in advising process.

respectNote the progression: First gentle redirection, then explicit suggestion, and finally firm instruction with clear connection to future employability.

Well done.

The soft skills initiative is enjoying acceptance, but we as faculty welcome concrete and realistic suggestions about how to move students toward attaining better skills.

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