Meeting the challenge of being a listening organization

Edizioni Santa Croce, University of Santa Croce
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Rilevanza e ascolto: Comunicare il messaggio cristiano nella pluralità delle voci contemporanee, 2023, pp. 67-83
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Communication is a term that rolls easily off the tongue, which is symbolic in light of the following discussion. Eminent sociologists, psychologists, democratic political theorists, and others have described communication as “the organizing element of human life” (Littlejohn and Foss 2011, 4) and the basis of human society (Carey 2009, 5). Eminent American philosopher and psychologist John Dewey said succinctly: “Society exists … in communication.” (Plate 1916, 5). Communication provides the ‘glue’ that holds groups, teams, communities, societies, and organizations together, even when they face challenges and conflict (Cho 2020; Maneerat, Hale, y Singhal 2005). However, starting with the oratory and the ‘art of rhetoric’ proselytised by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian (Atwill 1998; Kennedy 1994), communication has been widely conceptualized as voice and speaking. In Book 1 of Politics, Aristotle wrote that “nature ... has endowed man alone among the animals with the power of speech” and identified speaking as a key attribute that defines humans (Haworth 2012, 43). Renaissance political philosopher Thomas Hobbes echoed Aristotle’s trope in saying “the most noble and profitable invention of all others was that of speech” . In comparison, listening has languished in scholarship and practice, particularly in relation to organizations. Recent research has reported that “most organizations listen sporadically at best, often poorly, and sometimes not at all”(Macnamara 2016, 236). There is growing evidence that this is causally related to the “crisis of trust” (Flew 2019; Garland 2021; Macnamara 2020) that plagues many of our institutions as well as many inequities, crises, and catastrophes. There is an urgent need to turn attention to listening in our organized society.
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