Consulting Like You: How to get in Touch with Your Consulting Style

        I remember my first year as a peer tutor at my high school’s writing center. I could not have been more than fifteen years old when I went to my very first orientation session. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I was enthusiastic to learn. That year, the managers of my center were very excited to tell us all about something called minimalist theory. Minimalist theory is a consulting style that focuses on getting students to think for themselves. I won’t go too much in depth here, but if you want to know more I wrote a different article on the subject called “Minimalist Theory: When and When not to Use it.” 

        The managers pushed this theory pretty hard, undoubtably because they wanted us to focus on practicing it. However, in doing so I, as an itty-bitty baby consultant, internalized the message that minimalist theory was the only way to teach writing. This was a problem for a number of reasons but the main one is that minimalism is most certainly NOT the only way to consult. There are, in fact, nearly infinite ways to approach tutoring, and over time each consultant develops their own unique and flexible style. 

        I recently have been thinking about this more and more, in part because I am graduating high school soon and thus will be leaving the writing center. One of my last tasks as a consultant was to write a letter of advice to an incoming tutor, and the issue of consulting styles was the first thing that came to mind. Of course, there is only so much one can say in a short, one page letter. Therefore, I have decided to create this guide for finding your consulting style. This will be mostly geared towards people just starting out, but may be useful for more experienced tutors as well. 

Step One: Finding Your Footing

        Before you can truly establish a unique style, first you need to get your feet under you. Learning the basics of consulting is absolutely key. You would not try to set up the framework for a house before building the foundation or try to lay the top row of bricks before the bottom row. That would be silly, the house would fall over and the bricks would crash back down to earth. 

        Reading theory is of course helpful ,but when just starting out there is only one guaranteed way to get better: practice. Consulting is a skill, and just like any other skill it requires practice. This is probably the hardest and most frustrating part of learning to tutor. I remember quite frequently getting frustrated with myself because I was awkward with the clients and felt like I gave bad advice. I thought I was never going to get better, and that I was just going to be terrible forever. Sometimes I just wanted to quit. You might be feeling this way too, but do not give up. Have patience and be kind with yourself, you are going to get there but you must give yourself the space to learn. Before you know it, you will be consulting like a pro, and once that happens you will be ready for step 2. 

Step 2: Experiment

        Once you have gotten some skills under your belt, the next step is to start branching out. Here is where reading writing center theory and watching your fellow consultants is going to come in handy, particularly the latter. Learn as much as you can about all the different techniques there are out there and try them out. Experiment to your heart’s content. Some of the things you try are not going to work. That is alright. This step is all about trying new things. When you find something that feels comfortable, right, or works particularly well with your clients, make a mental note and continue to try it out. If something you are trying is not working after multiple attempts, it is absolutely fine to try something else. 

        One of the best tools you have for this step are your fellow consultants. Ask a colleague if you can sit in on their session and take notes about what you see. More often than not you will notice something they did that you want to try in your own consultations. You will encounter techniques that you may never have thought of. Learn from the people around you, their perspective is incredibly valuable. Once you have acquired the necessary skills and knowledge, you are ready for step 3. 

Step 3: Solidify

        This is the step where you begin to establish your style. Take the skills acquired in steps 1 and 2 and practice, practice, practice! By practicing the skills that you learned you will soon become a master at them. As you practice, they will mesh with your character and personality and like magic you will soon have your own unique consulting style. You probably will not even notice it happening until one day you realize how far you have come. Do not try to force this step to go quickly, it will happen in time. This is going to sound cheesy, but you have to be patient and let it come to you. 

Step 4: Be Flexible

        This is the last step and probably the most important one. Once your consulting style is established, this does not mean that you are done learning. Far from it! One of the biggest mistakes veteran consultants make is becoming complacent. Continue to read theory, continue to learn from your peers, and continue to adjust when something is not working. As a consultant you will continue to grow and evolve as you gain more experience. 

        It is also important to remember that each of your clients is going to be different, and thus require a slightly different consulting style. Trying to use the exact same style on every single client is going you make you tear your hair out in frustration when they do not respond accordingly. For example, in the writing center I volunteer at I see students in grade levels freshman through senior. When working with seniors I often employ a minimalist questioning style because they are confident in their writing and tend to benefit from thinking through problems themselves. In contrast, freshmen are often nervous, tired, and less than confident in their writing abilities. With them I tend to employ a more direct teaching style that gives them the tools they need to succeed in the future. If I used the minimalist style on the freshmen they would be scared and confused out of their wits, and employing a teaching style with a senior would probably come off as accidentally condescending. Every student is different, and even if you have an established style, that style might need to shift to support the needs of your client.


        One thing to remember about these steps is they might not necessarily be linear. Steps 1 and 2 will likely overlap quite a bit, and step 4 is important to remember regardless of where you are in your consulting journey. Do not worry about doing everything perfectly or doing the steps “wrong.” The only way to do the steps wrong is if you assume that your way of going about things is the only way to go about things. Every consultant is different, every style is different, and that is alright. The most important thing to remember is to try your best, and always be willing to grow.

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