Listening to communicate

Updated: Sep 20, 2019

By Claire Cunningham - Director - Rockallwight PR

I am PR professional but when I explain why I do what I do, I don’t start with PR. I look at the basic principles of communication. Why? Because communicating with your audiences is at the heart of good PR. You audiences are your customers or important stakeholders like shareholders, investors and your staff.

The most important thing to understand about communication is that it is not one-way. When we communicate, we do not just broadcast information, we engage in a rapport with someone else and we listen to what they say back to us and we maybe even let ourselves be influenced by that, or at least be prepared to consider shifting our stance, as a result of what we hear.

This concept of being prepared to change our position becomes essential when we look at the way organisations communicate. What happens is that the organisations that are brittle and do not listen to customers, stakeholders and even pressure groups, get into very sticky territory and often fail.

In the same vein, people who are communicated at in a one-way manner, switch off.

We’ve all been there in some argument or another. I am sure you will be familiar with it. One person is just in broadcast mode and talks constantly, without allowing the other person space to respond. There’s no room to reflect and take your turn in the conversation. This effectively shuts communication down.

It’s creating space for active listening and this turn taking that enables good relationships to develop. It’s no different with your audiences when you are a business. In the simplest terms, PR is the development of good relationships, built through active listening and conversations, where parties have space to take their turn in an ongoing conversation. Once you have built good relationships and are engaged in conversations, you can build your reputation and profile in a constructive and positive way.

Central to good relationships is the establishment of trust and for those who also worked in the 20th Century, it’s worth understanding that the backdrop for communicating with our audiences has changed. Now, in the 21st Century, more than ever, it’s important to be engaged in a two-way rapport with audiences.

We have moved away from the broadcast age, where people trusted big authoritative organisations and what they said and we live in a time of low trust in governments, big business, the public sector etc. If you want evidence of this just look at the Edelman Trust Barometer. It’s published every year or so by Edelman, a big international PR firm. It shows that in the 21st century people don’t look to business or governments but trust their peers and prefer one to one peer recommendations. Social media is really enabling this. As a business, you become closer to that trusted peer to peer style of recommendation by engaging in a rapport with your audience. This is why two-way conversations with your audiences are here to stay.

The importance of reflection and listening in order to communicate effectively is not a new concept. In a Fortune Magazine article in 1950, US business guru and journalist William.H.Whyte wrote:

"The great enemy of communication, we find, is the illusion of it. We have talked enough; but we have not listened. And by not listening we have failed to concede the immense complexity of our society–and thus the great gaps between ourselves and those with whom we seek understanding."

Communication is circular, not linear. It is not a one-way process: the audience has a part in it. Producing the desired response from the audience is the crucial concern. If this is your customers, making a decision about buying your product, you can immediately see how important it becomes for your business.

The environment or context in which the communication takes place affects the process. For example, people will have a different perspective on what is said based on their cultural background.

When you communicate, your audiences' response or feedback should affect your future communication. Communication has taken place when you have evidence that your audience has understood your message as you intended it to be understood.

This circles back to the importance of communication being two-way and not one-way. In one-way interactions, we don’t even try to check for understanding. If there’s a rapport, a relationship, a conversation with our audience, then it’s much clearer that the message has been understood. These principles sit at the heart of good communication and PR.

If you would like to start your conversation about communicating with your audiences and raising your profile, Rockallwight PR is here to help. Just get in touch.

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