Skip to content
The OCR Glossary

Organizational Listening

Toni Muzi Falconi

Organizational listening can be defined as a management process by which an organization formulates and implements a listening policy by considering its own identity, and that of its socioeconomic and industrial sector, which enables it to better gather, understand, and interpret specific expectations from relevant stakeholder publics related to either the tactical (when situationally relevant) or the strategic objectives it aims to pursue before, during, and after its decision-making process.

This entry considers listening as an intrinsic part of communication, including the use of listening to persuade, change the organization and its stakeholders/publics, improve the organization’s decision-making process, and harness a savvy use of opinion and behavioral research. In addition, it covers how to apply an appropriate three-tier organizational listening process, summarizes the current body of related professional knowledge, and identifies the principal management challenges associated with organizational listening.

Purposes of Organizational Listening

Listening as Communication

The action of listening represents more than 50 percent of any interpersonal or organizational communication process, and from this perspective, many social, corporate, financial, and political leaders today claim that listening is a must, but they are not fully aware of how to effectively approach this process.

Listening to Persuade

Throughout the 20th century, marketing practices overwhelmed communication processes in all Western and many other societies, and listening to an organization’s publics was intended, in the best of cases, in line with Edward Bernays’s “scientific persuasion” approach: The organization listens to better understand how publics react to its messages in order to improve its persuasive power.

Changing the Organization and Publics

Today, listening to stakeholders has become essential before, during, and after speaking/writing/showing. A number of factors have led to the importance of organizational listening. These include the emergence and growing importance of stakeholders in the organization’s decision-making process, the global 24/7 “always-on” connectivity environment that has transformed communication into the glue that keeps the organization together, and the emergence of the ability to evaluate the quality of a stakeholder relationship and of the organization’s reputation. Thus, organizational listening helps not only to evaluate the impact of what is said/written/shown but also, and most important, to change the organization itself, thus reinforcing the organization’s reputation and license to operate.

Improve Decision Making

Traditional schooling does not teach the basic elements of the listening process, as it does for writing and speaking, and its professional application is left to counselors, therapists, and clergy. However, today, neuroscience and other scientific disciplines are working to link the interpersonal listening process (the legacy of psychology and psychiatry) with the organizational listening process (the legacy of management). Organizations are becoming increasingly aware that by implementing a conscious, horizontal, and monitored listening policy, they are able to improve the quality of their decision-making processes and accelerate their time of implementation.

Harnessing Opinion and Behavioral Research

Organizational research is a fundamental part of the listening process. Listening requires understanding, understanding is coping with the environment, and coping with the environment implies interaction with stakeholders with a purpose in mind. Relationships may be finalized to help achieve not only strategic objectives but also, and often more important, specific, intermediate ones, which implies the need to focus on relationships with specific stakeholder groups.

An organization’s mission defines its identity, its vision is where it intends to be in a given time frame, and its strategy is the path it intends to follow. But there are many intermediate, tactical, and specific objectives that the organization needs to achieve to pursue its journey, and the listening process needs to apply to all of these, according to their levels of importance and complexity. This includes desk research (or online research) on the issue at stake; an analysis of the organization’s identity; an analysis of the influence of key stakeholder groups, alliances, and coalitions; and the collection of direct and indirect positions expressed on an issue by key stakeholder groups. This collection is done by the organization exchanging information either one with one or one with few, through telephone, face-to-face conversations, or digital exchanges with significant members of the key stakeholder groups. Research as listening also includes participant observation, stakeholder network analysis, structured interviews, focus groups, off-line and online questionnaires, and other qualitative and quantitative research techniques.


These techniques require the organization to develop a specific ad hoc listening policy, keeping in mind its own unique identity. It will need to adapt these research tools to an authentic and unbiased understanding of stakeholder expectations relevant to the issue at stake. In some cases, this will lead the organization to change itself rather than adapting its communication behavior to those expectations.

Three-Tier Process

It is important to underline the basic difference between the act of hearing and that of listening. Hearing implies collecting information, while listening includes a three-tier process that leads to understanding.

This three-tier process requires the organization to recognize its own ideas, biases, stereotypes, and fixations and deposit these to objectively and unobtrusively assemble verbal, visual, written, and experiential contents from representatives of key stakeholder groups who are relevant to the issue and whose decisions and behaviors may have an effect on the organization’s pursued objectives. The organization then returns to its key interlocutors with the collected information to seek added inputs or materials. The organization then interprets the collected information, determines its impact on the issue at stake, and makes decisions on the issue based on such information.

Summarizing the Current Body of Related Professional Knowledge

The Global Alliance’s Stockholm Accords in 2010 first formalized listening and stakeholder engagement as a research-based process to identify organizational risks as well as opportunities. The Global Alliance’s Melbourne Mandate 2012 defined the mandate for a listening management function. The mandate called for the organization to do as follows:

  1. Develop research methodologies to measure an organisation’s capacity to listen, and apply these metrics before and after the pursuit of strategy and during any major action.
  2. Identify and activate channels to enable organisational listening.
  3. Identify all stakeholder groups affected by the pursuit of an organisation’s strategy, both now and in the future.
  4. Identify all stakeholder groups that affect the pursuit of the organisation’s strategy, both now and in the future.
  5. Identify these stakeholder groups’ expectations and consider them both in the organisation’s strategy and before taking any action.
  6. Ensure sound reasons are communicated to stakeholders in cases where their expectations cannot be met.
  7. Prove that the organisation is genuinely listening as it takes actions in pursuit of its strategy.
  8. Evaluate the effectiveness of the organisation’s listening. (Global Alliance, 2012)

Principal Management Challenges

Often, when organizations decide themselves who their stakeholders are, they listen only to those who agree with them. This is based on a flawed thought process. If a person, organization, or group is aware of holding a stake in an organization and is interested in exercising it, it decides by itself to be a stakeholder and does not need to be granted this privilege by the organization. In turn, the organization may refrain from engaging in dialogue with a specific stakeholder group, although it does this at its own risk. With the exception of limited and specific areas of reporting, there is no obligation for organizations to deal directly with stakeholders.

It is a major risk to dialogue only with supportive stakeholders; this can lead to significant misunderstandings. This is the reason why it makes sense for the organization, after having identified all stakeholder groups, to first involve them in the sense of making available all the necessary information on its position, options, actions, and information related to a specific objective, together with incentivized forms of feedback, and then to engage in an interactive mode with those the organization believes essential. Another major challenge for the management function remains in establishing a balance between achieving overall societal legitimacy, on the one hand, and value for the specific organization in whose name it operates, on the other.

Public relations managers remain committed to fostering dialogue with stakeholder groups and, where necessary, to prompting cultural and organizational changes to better meet their expectations. Nonetheless, the profession’s value is most frequently derived from its contribution to an organization’s license to operate and acknowledges that a listening policy is pivotal for any communication that ultimately serves both the organization and society. The public relations manager enables and sustains his or her organization’s listening policy by encouraging organizational leaders to actively support and exemplify a culture of listening within their organizations; striving to build trust through enduring and respectful relationships with stakeholders and the wider community; and pursuing policies and practices based on internationally recognized standards for corporate social responsibility, sustainability, financial and governance reporting and performance, and transparency.

The Melbourne Mandate encourages public relations practitioners to generate and implement their organizations’ listening policy by

  • understanding the organization’s overall strategy and license to operate;
  • identifying all stakeholder groups who are—currently and in future—affected by or affect the pursuit of an organization’s objective;
  • identifying these stakeholder groups’ expectations and encouraging their inclusion;
  • identifying all stakeholder groups who are affected by an organization’s current or future actions and enabling their expectations to be considered before organizational action is taken;
  • providing legitimate reasons in cases where stakeholders’ expectations cannot be considered in an organization’s action;
  • demonstrating at any time during the pursuit of strategy and during organizational action that the organization is genuinely listening;
  • developing appropriate methodologies that provide a metric to measure an organization’s capacity to listen; and
  • applying these metrics before and after the pursuit of its strategy as well as during any of its major actions.

Global Alliance. (2012). The Melbourne Mandate. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from

Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. (n.d.). Stockholm Accords. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from

Grunig, J. E. (2006). Furnishing the edifice: Ongoing research on public relations as a strategic management function. Journal of Public Relations Research, 18(2), 151–176. doi:

Yaxley, H. (2013, April 11). Generic principles and specific applications in public relations. Retrieved February 11, 2016, from

See Also

Engagement; Expectation Management; Feedback; Noise; Public Relations; Research Methods in Corporate Reputation; Stakeholder Theory; Stakeholders; Strategy

See Also

Please select listing to show.