Archive for April, 2012

The Single Most Powerful Change Counselors Can Make To Be More Effective

April 26th, 2012

Time and time again when we visit campuses to conduct our Interactive Training Workshops we see counselors struggle with what is the most important element in their conversations with students: Probing.

If you ask the average counselor, they will tell you that they have an established list of questions that they ask the typical student. What major are you most interested in? What do you like to do outside of school? What do you hope to be doing after graduation? Have you been to our campus before? What schools are you looking at? What attracted you to our institution? There are hundreds more.

After they’ve been doing it for a while, most counselors get very polished at asking these questions. They become skilled at making students and parents feel at ease.

In truth, most questions asked by a counselor – even a seasoned one – are the same questions asked by counselors everywhere. For a student, that makes for a rather predictable and uninspiring conversation.

The alternative to asking questions is to probe. Deeply. Widely. Comprehensively.

In our workshop, we conduct a role-playing exercise called “Fill The Buckets” in which a counselor must spend no less than 10 minutes asking questions of a “student” (who is played by another participant in the workshop). The counselor can open any conversational bucket they wish in an effort to understand the student’s needs, preferences and motivations. Open a bucket about parents? That’s okay. Major interest? Okay, too. Other schools under consideration? No problem.

The role-playing counselor is encouraged to ask all of these questions and many more. But they can ask questions only! For 10 minutes! They are encouraged to open buckets and drill down thoroughly enough to understand the importance of specific issues. They should also uncover the importance relative to other issues, and the degree to which each issue will influence college selection.

What the counselor must NOT do during this probing exercise is to talk about the college. And that’s what is so hard. The natural inclination is to ask a question, get an answer, and offer up some attribute of the institution that relates to the answer they just got. That’s the definition of a linear conversation controlled by the equivalent of triggers and switches.

A more free-form conversation, with unexpected tangents and discoveries, is more productive for both the student and the counselor. Only after the counselor has opened, filled, and closed all the needed buckets is he or she in a position to connect the dots of the conversation and to frame a compelling value proposition for the student.

The only way to influence anyone is to first understand, through rich conversation, what truly motivates them. Probing enables rich conversation.

Most counselors can’t probe for 10 minutes straight. They run out of questions. With training they can learn to probe indefinitely.