Building Interpersonal Relationships as a Key to Effective Speaking Center Consultations

Article excerpt

Although much interest has been generated regarding the functions speaking centers serve and the effects consultations can have, minimal research has addressed the dynamics of consultations themselves. This study documents what speaking center clients and consultants identify as barriers in consultations and how they address them. Analysis of qualitative survey data obtained from university speaking center clients and consultants shows that emotional intelligence, empathy, and interpersonal trust serve as necessary underlying components of successful consultations.

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With persistent and increasingly urgent demands that students demonstrate effective oral communication, colleges and universities have turned to speaking centers (also known as communication centers) to tutor students who may need special assistance (Hobgood, 2002). These speaking centers often conduct consultations using a peer-to-peer method, with trained student consultants mentoring other students in one-on-one consultations. The objective of speaking centers is to develop public communication competencies, focusing on public speaking and other oral presentation skills.

The communication between consultants (speaking center tutors/mentors) and clients (users of services) determines the success of speaking centers. Ineffective communication within speaking centers can inhibit trust, effective listening, and constructive consultations. On the other hand, effective communication within speaking centers can enable clients to explore their public speaking capabilities while receiving constructive criticism to heighten their speaking potential. While speaking centers strive to use effective communication, it is impossible to prove the effectiveness of communication without research on the actual communication that occurs within speaking centers. This type of research also shows the effects of communication in the speaking center as a workplace. Studying communication within speaking centers is the only way to measure the success of speaking centers. As speaking centers are becoming more prevalent in colleges and universities, this type of research allows one to look at the communication dynamics that can improve their operation and maximize their effectiveness.

Consultant-client relationships are an integral part of speaking centers. Though this relationship begins to evolve within minutes, it has a critical impact on the success of speaking centers. While some communication barriers may be inevitable, many can be addressed and overcome. If communication barriers are not overcome, the client may feel uncomfortable, unwilling to work with the consultant, and more importantly, unwilling to return to the speaking center for help in the future. Furthermore, communication barriers can diminish the credibility of speaking centers if not addressed appropriately. By studying consultant-client relationships in speaking centers, one is able to look into empirical data that shows what the client and consultant experience and value during consultations. From studying the consultant, one not only identifies communication barriers during consultations, but ways they are addressed and overcome. Studying an entire staff at a speaking center can align consultants' communication barriers with those of the clients. The data from the clients gives an idea of ways that their needs can be met. Looking at the similarities and differences between the communication barriers of consultants and clients can identify the factors responsible for effective consultations.

Currently, little scholarly research has been done on speaking centers. Searching the Communication and Mass Media Complete database using the phrase "speaking centers" and synonyms yielded only eight articles. Three were announcements of communication conferences, four concerned the services of labs from a specific university, and one dealt with listening. A literature search using the same search terms on the PsycInfo database generated only one hit that was associated with speaking centers. …