A simple shift in perspective can transform dialogue and engagement
Today I got to shake hands with over 300 students. No, it wasn’t convocation – it was kind of the opposite of convocation. It was…the annual College Information Fair.
That’s when hundreds of (mostly) high school students pour into a massive convention centre by the busload, and let loose on aisles of kiosks and pavilions, each promoting specific academic institutions and programs. Some students were 100% clear about their post-secondary journeys, some expressed uncertainty about which school to attend. Others candidly acknowledged that they didn’t have a glimmer of an idea about where they wanted to head after high school. Some were leaning toward a program that wasn’t going to get them to their ultimate career destination, and many were just there to hang out with friends and pick up some free swag.
Last year I approached my role with the primary objective of offering information about the academic programs that I administer. This year, I decided to try a slightly different approach, more in line with motivational interviewing, where the goal is to evoke versus educate. In other words, instead of asking potential students “How can I help you?” / “What would you like to know?”, I opened the conversation with a couple of questions designed to briefly elicit each person’s “big picture” goals before honing in on the specifics of a particular program of study.
|Instead of…||I asked…|
|How can I help you?||What programs are you interested in?|
|What would you like to know about Program X?||What made you decide that you’re interested in Program X?|
|What other questions can I help with?||Where do you see yourself in terms of your ultimate goal or career?|
|Here’s some additional information…||Can I share how Program X (and/or Y and/or Z) might fit with your goals?|
The results were amazing. Because many teenagers aren’t the most voluble conversationalists, our interactions were brief but much more meaningful than the conversations that I held last year. Students were engaged, they felt heard and affirmed, and for many who were unsure about their future, a couple of follow-up questions (“What kinds of courses in high school captured your interest most?” “If you could have any job, what would it be?”) helped them to clarify some possible directions. I also heard some amazing stories and made deeper connections.
And from a purely selfish perspective, at the end of the day I too felt energized. I felt like I contributed more than what’s written in the academic calendar!