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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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Listening in Organizational Communication


As noted in Chapter 2 in overviewing the various specialist fields of public communication practice employed in and by organizations, organizational communication mostly refers to internal communication within organizations and between organizations. Internal communication is also referred to as employee communication and employee relations, but can also include communication with close affiliates in some cases such as business partners, distributors, and retailers. The relevance of two-way communication and listening in organizational communication is made clear in the findings of a 2014 US study that reported managers undertake communication “to build trust and engagement with employees” (Mishra, Boynton, & Mishra, 2014, p. 183) and rated engagement as “one of their top priorities” (p. 190). Furthermore, the study reported that executives see the primary route to building trust and engagement as dialogue with employees and external stakeholders (p. 192) [emphasis added].

In this study, the internal communication of one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies with consolidated revenue of more than ← 205 | 206 → US$100 billion and a quarter of a million employees was examined. The vice president (VP) of corporate communication and the head of internal communication were interviewed and an extensive range of communication materials were reviewed. A number of stand-out trends were observed in this organization. The most noteworthy was a fundamental shift from printed information materials to video—specifically digital video hosted internally on the company’s intranet or externally on YouTube channels or other public Web sites. The company has established four video programs...

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