Participatory communication and listening: an exploratory study of organisational listening competency

Burnside Lawry, J 2010, Participatory communication and listening: an exploratory study of organisational listening competency, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Media and Communication, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Participatory communication and listening: an exploratory study of organisational listening competency
Author(s) Burnside Lawry, J
Year 2010
Abstract The increasing influence of stakeholders on decisions and management of organisations is well documented (Scholes & Clutterbuck, 1998; Bronn & Bronn, 2003; Gable & Shireman, 2005; McVea & Freeman, 2005). Engagement with stakeholders can sometimes result in conflict and misunderstandings between the organisation and some stakeholder groups; it is in these encounters that negotiation and listening skills are most critical (Gable & Shireman, 2005).

The purpose of this study was to examine the listening competency of two organisations during organisation-stakeholder engagement events with their respective stakeholders. The study was positioned as a multi-disciplinary qualitative research project, providing a critical-constructive examination of organisation-stakeholder listening competency. The participation of two organisations, involving six case studies within metropolitan and regional Australian contexts, provided opportunity to conduct a multiple-case study. Within-case and cross-case synthesis were selected as suitable analytic techniques for this study (Yin, 2009). The following cross-case syntheses were conducted:
• intra-organisation comparison (data from three cases within each organisation collated and compared );
• inter-organisation comparison (organisation A compared to organisation B );
• cross-cohort comparison (stakeholder results compared with manager results).

Data analysis involved three stages. Data from each case was examined within the framework of constructs from listening competency literature and re-examined within the framework of constructs from participatory communication literature. Within each case, listening competency results were compared with participatory communication results.

Service quality literature provided a descriptive framework to consider possible causes of gaps between stakeholder expectations and perceptions of organisation listening competency.

Findings indicate this research makes significant contributions to organisation-stakeholder communication literature. Results confirmed stakeholder expectations of ‘effective organisation listening’ correspond with Wolvin & Coakley’s (1994) and Cooper’s (1997) description of competent listening An important contribution of this research is development of a taxonomy of qualities associated with a competent listening organisation (QCL taxonomy). The QCL taxonomy, presented as an outcome of this research, extends understanding of organisational listening competency (Appendix 4.1.).

Results confirmed Jacobson’s (2007b) model of participatory communication as a method to evaluate competent organisational listening. Results revealed synergies between conditions stakeholders used as a basis for assessing an organisation’s listening competency and the categories of validity claims and speech conditions used as a basis for assessing participatory communication (Jacobson, 2007a, 2007b). Findings supported Jacobson’s (2007b) assertion that “if citizens are allowed to challenge … validity claims, and if speech conditions are fully met in resulting debates, then citizens are more likely to feel they have been heard” (p.14).

An exciting contribution to participatory communication and listening competency literature was the discovery that Jacobson’s (2007b) model, comprising an extension of Habermas’s theory of Communicative Action, provides a framework to gain insights into communication strategies and organisation procedures perceived by stakeholders to enhance or impede genuine organisation-stakeholder dialogue.

Findings indicate this study has implications for the practice of organisation-stakeholder communication and management communication training.
Application of Zeithaml et al’s (1990) service quality model assessed the gap between stakeholder expectations and perceptions of an organisation’s current listening competency and provided insight into communication practices that would improve the quality of organisational listening offered to stakeholders.

An important contribution from this research is a questionnaire developed as a result of findings from the study. The Burnside Organisational Listening Competency Questionnaire combines concepts from listening competency, participatory communication and service quality to assess the listening competency of an organisation involved in stakeholder engagement (Appendix 8.1).

The study identified six factors that stakeholders believed enhance or impede competent organisational listening:
• appropriate organisation behaviour
• knowledge
• sincerity
• comprehension
• corporate culture
• speech conditions

A significant outcome from this study is an understanding of specific communication skills, associated with each factor, required by managers involved in building and maintaining positive organisation-stakeholder relationships.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Media and Communication
Keyword(s) listening
participatory communication
organisational communication
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Created: Tue, 16 Nov 2010, 17:04:16 EST
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