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Organizational Listening

The Missing Essential in Public Communication

Jim Macnamara

Organizations, which are central in contemporary industrialized and post-industrial societies, including government departments and agencies, corporations, and non-government organizations, claim to want and practice two-way communication, dialogue, and engagement with citizens, customers, employees, and other stakeholders and publics. But do they in reality? Voice – speaking up – is recognized as fundamental for democracy, representation, and social equity. But what if governments, corporations, institutions, and NGOs are not listening? This book reports the findings of a two-year, three-continent study that show that public and private sector organizations devote substantial and sometimes massive resources to construct an ‘architecture of speaking’ through advertising, PR, and other public communication practices, but listen poorly, sporadically, and sometimes not at all. Beyond identifying a ‘crisis of listening’ in modern societies, this landmark study proposes and describes how organizations need to create an architecture of listening to regain trust and re-engage people whose voices are unheard or ignored. It presents a compelling case to show that urgent attention to organizational listening is essential for maintaining healthy democracy, organization legitimacy, business sustainability, and social equity. This research is essential reading for all scholars, students, and practitioners involved in politics; government, corporate, marketing, and organizational communication; public relations; and all those interested in democratic participation, media, and society.


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Acknowledgements ix Introduction 1 Chapter 1: The Fundamental Role of Communication and Voice 7 Public Communication in Society 8 The Public Sphere 10 The Market 16 Civil Society 18 The Central Role of Organizations in Contemporary Societies 21 The Valorization of Voice and Speaking 25 The Missing Corollary of Speaking—Listening 29 What Is Listening? 36 The Pre-requisite of Openness 36 Receptivity 37 Reciprocity 37 Hospitality 38 Engagement 39 Seven Canons of Listening 41 Listen To, Listen In, Listen Out For, Listen Up 44 vi contents Listening and Silence 46 Listening Requires Interactivity 48 Listening Is Contingent 48 Listening and Hearing 49 Listening vs. Agreement 51 Listening Is Work 51 What Is Organizational Listening? 52 Non-listening and Fake Listening 53 The Ethics of Listening 56 The Problematic Nature of Audiences 58 Ventriloquism—Who Is Speaking and Who Is Being Listened To? 59 The Effects of Not Listening 60 Theoretical Frameworks for Organizational Listening 68 Chapter 2: How Organizations Say They Communicate 73 Research 73 Marketing Communication 75 Customer Relations 78 Political Communication 81 Government Communication 84 Corporate Communication 85 Organizational Communication 87 Public Relations 90 Public Consultation 97 Social Media 101 Correspondence, ‘Contact Us’ Links, ‘Info’ Lines, and Help Lines 103 The Missing Link in Public Communication 104 Information vs. Communication 110 Chapter 3: The Crisis of Listening in Organizations and Society 115 The Organizational Listening Project 115 Aims and Objectives 116 Research Questions 117 Methodology 118 Sample 119 Ethics 123 Research Methods 125 Data Capture and Analysis 127 Limitations...

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