Redefining Listening

Back in Comm III, we devoted around four meetings to discuss a whole chapter on listening. We discussed different definitions of listening, the shortest of which is it as “the attachment of meaning to aural symbols (Nichols, 1954).” We even discussed a model that presented the different stages of listening (hearing, identifying and recognizing patterns and relationships, and auding), which while I fully understand, I still cannot imagine how we fulfill all these stages in a snap.

Now, why am I going back to our Comm III lesson on listening? The context of listening in our speech communication classes is during seminars, lectures, and similar public communication venues. However, it is possible to contextualize listening through the organization’s use of the new social media. We said that for organizations to remain competitive in the era of the perfect storm, they should be able to listen to the unheard voices inside (employees) and outside (customers) the company structure. With the emergence of a new platform that somehow levels the playing field for everyone, the listening process becomes different.

Listening redefined
Hearing is the first stage and the most physical part of listening – sounds enter the ear before everything else. With the new social media, the written (typed) word becomes the unit of listening (aside of course from videos, podcasts, etc, but it’s heavily on the things that we type). Thank heavens for Google,, Twitter, among others, we can listen to our customers who try to speak to us. Obviously, this is another change in the process – the medium before was plainly air and sound waves, now we have other social media sites to give to us the written word.

More importantly, there is a wide array of choices of channels for talking through social media, thus people are more inclined to speak up. Message is now sent from many to one and to many more (consumers to organization and to other consumers), as compared to before, it was the organization sending messages to its audiences, without any venue for feedback.

Auding is the key
After I reread the Comm III manual, I remembered that listening does not end with just getting the message and knowing where or from who the message came from. Enter the auding stage, which is defined as “the assimilation of words and responding to them with understanding and feeling (2003).” The response to the message completes the process, thus it is not enough that organizations just get the message – there is a need to decide and act upon it to fulfill listening. Auding also mentions the need for overlapping fields of experiences to be able to respond appropriately to the message. This all the more emphasizes the need to bring back the ‘human’ in all of us, which was partly hidden by deceivingly-powerful mass methods.

How can organizations do auding? In the context of the organization-consumer conversation, the following are some of the ways by which we can respond to and emphatize with the message.

1. Indexing
– Listening to a plethora of real people online will give countless messages. By indexing, the organization arranges messages in order of importance. Is this an immediate need of the customers? If not, when we should work on this? Are there any problems that need to resolved now? What are the problems that might grow full scale in the future if not addressed as soon as possible?

2. Making comparisons
– By comparing the messages to other messages of similar content, one determines (1) the scale of the message and (2) how to act upon the message. Do customers have the same concern repeatedly? Why is that so? Is the same thing happening or did it happen to our competitors? How did they address the concern? How should we address this one now?

3. Appreciating
– Appreciating is defined as “responding to the aesthetic nature of the message.” As we build relationships with our consumers, we have to appreciate their effort to send us feedback, whether it’s positive or negative. Appreciation can be in the form of replies to comments, invitations to acknowledge the person’s ambassadorship or to address the person’s concerns face-to-face, or ultimately, in the form of better service or products for the consumers.

Back to basics
All the above points are from a public communication perspective, but even though there is a consideration of the new social media, the principles remain the same. More so, the nature of listening has not changed – it is an active process; there has to be effort to start and continue the process (DeVito, 1982). As we want the consumer’s attention to be on us, we must also give them the attention that they require, and it is through dynamic and participative listening that we can make them feel valued.

Bulan, C.T. & de Leon I.C. (2002). Comm 3: Practical speech fundamentals.


One thought on “Redefining Listening

  1. “Listening” is definitely different in the net as compared to real life.

    However, the most important thing in the concept of “listening” remains unchanged: Responding through swift action.

    With the internet, people can communicate continuously and endlessly that you may find yourself not having time to reply to it all. An advice? Don’t. Just focus on making the necessary adjustments to make your consumers happy.

    An unfulfilled promise of improvement is the worst reply your company can give whereas a swift action to any problem that arises will put a smile in your customer’s face anytime of the day. 🙂

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