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Listen up

13 Oct 2020

‘Friends, Romans, countrymen – lend me your ears!’

Like Mark Anthony exclaims in Shakespeare’s oft-quoted Julius Caesar, the function of communications is often diminished to a one-way exercise. Whether it be the presidential candidate waxing lyrical at the lectern, or the young revolutionary calling his fellow citizens to arms from a soap box styled pulpit – the focus is on message transmission. But what if that was only half the picture?

If you were to ask a layman to describe a conversation, chances are they would accurately depict two or more parties talking to each other. What they critically miss is the other half of the picture – listening to each other. Conversation and, by extension, communication relies on both transmission AND reception. It is this commonly forgotten function which completes the communications puzzle. 

As we look around in today’s digitally evolving landscape, it becomes abundantly clear that consumers and audiences expect companies and organisations to listen. Those who don’t run the risk of seeming foolhardy, unsympathetic, or worse. With infinite social media platforms, review and feedback mechanisms, there has never been more ways for audiences to communicate their feelings, thoughts and stances. But the question remains – are you listening? And does what you hear affect what you’re going to say?

It might not always be possible to do but maintaining a sense of conversation and dialogue can greatly enhance the effectiveness of our communications. It eschews the mechanical and transmission-based approach of just getting a message across in favour of a more open-ended and authentic approach which can build trust and loyalty, and more importantly respects and values the audience. Indeed, those that are more actively listening could be those who feel better listened to.

Perhaps if Mark Anthony better understood the role of communications, he wouldn’t have to ask his listeners to lend their ears. They would already be in conversation.

For further reading on listening in corporate and organisational communications, check out Listening to People from the Harvard Business Review.

Michael is IABC Canberra’s Vice President and Director of Events. He is also Communications Lead with Dionysus – a cultural development and placemaking consultancy based in Canberra – and manages project-based communications and marketing for a variety of clients such as Molonglo Group, City Renewal Authority (ACT Government) and Australian National University. Michael revels in crafting campaigns and events with audacity and authenticity, always keeping creativity at the core. He has held a variety of communications roles including work in the Press Gallery as a sub-editor for a news monitoring service, political staffer for a local Senator, and marketing manager for a suite of local hospitality venues. Michael is also a professional musician and performs throughout the Canberra region, regularly collaborating with the city’s many national institutions.

Connect on LinkedIn: Michael Liu

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