Paula S Tompkins

Paula S Tompkins

Director (Rhetorical Listening),


Paula S. Tompkins, PhD. University of Minnesota, 1987 is professor of Communication Studies at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA. Her work is guided by the idea that if communication ethics is to be part of our relationships and communities, it must be evident in our everyday communication. As an active teacher/scholar, her focus is on promoting personal practice of ethically responsive communication, as illustrated by her textbook Practicing Communication Ethics: Development, Discernment and Decision Making. Written for easy access by undergraduate students, she combines communication theory, moral psychology, and philosophy to encourage the reader’s development as a more mindful and ethically responsive communicator. The text uses her concept of rhetorical listening as a technique for facilitating ethical sensitivity and promoting moral imagination, both of which are key in practicing ethically responsive communication.

Dr. Tompkins’ scholarship ranges from analyses of communication ethics in a corporate orientation program and Star Trek to development of the concept of rhetorical listening as a means for encouraging ethical sensitivity, to her recent scholarship on Dr. Michael Hyde’s concept of acknowledgment as a gift that co-creates the relationships in which we dwell. Ethically responsive listening is a critical element of acknowledgment. Dr. Tompkins’ study of acknowledgment includes co-creation of ethical values, such as justice, by acts of acknowledgment and development of communication skills of acknowledgment in children.

Dr. Tompkins is a member of a research team of eight communication ethics scholar/teachers which has collaboratively studied curriculum and teaching methods in communication ethics courses taught in North America. In 2015, the National Communication Association’s (NCA) Division of Communication Ethics recognized a study by this team as the outstanding published article of the year. One of the team’s goals is further development of communication ethics pedagogy.

Dr. Tompkins is a member, including past chair, of the NCA Communication Ethics Division, as well as interest groups in the Central States Communication Association. She served as a member of the steering committee for creation of the NCA Credo for Ethical Communication, a document that explains key principles of ethical communication in a way non-academics could understand, e.g. someone you just met on an airplane flight. One of the goals of the Credo is to encourage conversation about communication ethics outside of the academy. All said Dr Tompkins believes that listening is the prime important part in communication.