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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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Chapter 5: The Benefits of Organizational Listening for Democratic Politics, Government, Business, and Society


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This chapter addresses what some see as the ‘elephant in the room’ in the form of a number of interrelated questions about the findings reported and the recommendations presented. Collectively they pose what, in academic terms, is the ultimate question in any research project. So what? Why do organizations have to listen, including to strangers in some cases? Most specifically, what are the benefits of organizational listening? These are questions that have arisen during this research project, posed both as genuine inquiries and as veiled objections or perceived obstacles. To these I add one more: What happens if organizations don’t listen to their stakeholders, publics, and concerned stakeseekers?

Based on the experiences of a number of organizations, this analysis has already argued that organizational listening does not require additional resources in the form of personnel, time, facilities, or technology. It may require different personnel, facilities, technologies, and skills. But successful organizations demonstrate that two-way communication including listening leading to dialogue and engagement can be accomplished through reallocation of resources from ineffective and lower priority activities. This analysis also has explained the method for identifying activities that can be scaled back or eliminated—measurement and evaluation conducted using rigorous quantitative and qualitative research. ← 295 | 296 →

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