Big consequences when organizational listening is lacking

Publicerad: 29 maj 2016

During WPRF, you are talking about a big study regarding organizational listening. Why is that study of importance for communicators?

Photo of Jim Macnamara– My latest research examines how organizations listen to their stakeholders and publics. Why is that important? Well, communication is defined as a transactional process, not a one-way transmission of information – which is information, not communication.

– Public relations are defined as two-way interaction, even to the point of symmetry, as well as dialogue. PR and marketing profess to build relationships. Government, political, organizational and corporate communication claim to seek engagement. All of those processes – two-way communication, symmetry, dialogue, engagement and relationships – require listening, not just speaking by organizations.

–  Also, two-way communication and dialogue are not simply turn-taking at speaking. Two-way communication, dialogue and relationships require listening as well as speaking from both sides – organizations and their publics.

–  I found that most organizations listen very poorly, and sometimes not at all. On average, 80 percent of the so-called communication resources of public and private sector organizations are deployed to disseminate their messages. Sometimes, up to 95 percent of the communication resources of organizations are devoted to speaking.

What are the risks with organizational listening that is sporadic and sometimes non-existing?
– Lack of listening presents a number of serious problems for organizations, their stakeholders, publics and society as a whole. We don’t have to go very far to find research showing:

  • declining trust in government – for example, only 14 percent of young Americans trust Congress, only 12 percent trust Wall Street, and only 11 percent trust traditional media, according to Harvard University (2015)

  • declining participation and disengagement in democracy – especially among youth. Apart from occasional surges in voter turnout such as the 2008 Obama election, just over 30 percent of eligible voters on average elect the US president. In the UK, only 12 percent of eligible voters in one UK electorate voted in a 2012 by-election – the lowest voter turnout since 1945. Membership in political parties is declining in almost all democratic countries

  • increasing radicalization has been linked to disengagement and disillusionment among groups who feel ignored

  • declining trust in business, as reported in successive Edelman Trust Barometer surveys

  • declining employee loyalty and retention

  • declining customer loyalty and retention.

What can be done in order to become better at listening as an organization?
– I have proposed that large-scale listening requires what I call an ‘architecture of listening’ – not just an ‘architecture of speaking’, which industries such as advertising and PR currently create. Effective large-scale organizational listening cannot be achieved simply by adding on a bit of technology such as social media monitoring. An ‘architecture of listening’ requires:

  1. A culture of listening – one that is open to listening to various stakeholders and publics

  2. Addressing the ‘politics of listening’ such as differentials in power between organizations and many of their stakeholders and publics and learning how to communicate with diverse groups

  3. Policies for listening need to be put in place

  4. Structures and processes for listening are needed

  5. Of course, technologies can play an important role such as monitoring tools or services for tracking media and online comment; automated acknowledgement systems; text analysis software for sense-making when large volumes of discussion occur, and even specialist consultation and argumentation software to facilitate meaningful dialogue, consultation, and debate

  6. Resources – financial and particularly human – have to do the work of listening such as establishing forums, inviting comment, monitoring, analyzing, and responding to comments and questions

  7. Staff need to have skills in listening

  8. There needs to be articulation of what the organization ‘hears’ to decision making and policy making. Listening does not necessarily mean agreement, but there must be at least consideration and acknowledgement.

Text: Karvan Shahabi

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