The Ethical Side of Listening

***Guest Blog by Kirk Hazlett Adjunct Professor of Communication at The University of Tampa.***

Listening, in its simplest form, is the act of receiving information and, ideally, taking a corresponding action. For those of us in the communication profession, and I intend this term to encompass the marketing, advertising, public relations and journalism fields, listening is a crucial step in the formulation of our messaging to those publics who turn to us for information. To put it simply, “Listening is not easy!” Not only must we actively listen to our publics in order to be keenly aware of their wants and needs; we also must listen to what we communicate in response to those wants and , needs.

It is all too easy to blithely say, “I know what I want them to hear, therefore…” More often than not, the end result is a message that creates confusion, unnecessary concern, or unexpected resentment rather than support and understanding.

I have learned – to a great degree, the “hard” way – as a public relations professional and now as a public relations professor to consciously adjust my attention to be in sync with my relevant audiences. As Communications Director for the Blood Bank of Hawaii, for example, I learned early on that, although the patients of Hawaii were indeed important and our reason for being, the wants and needs of the thousands of wonderful donors, volunteer lifesavers, were critical in communicating the ongoing need for their support. Now, in my “professorial” role, I have come to recognize that, although the pronouncements of the college or university where I might be teaching are important, the goals and aspirations of the students who have turned to me for insights into the career field that they have tentatively identified as their future are even more significant.

So what does this all mean for us as communicators? For starters, it means that we have to come into meetings or into the classroom with an open agenda, ready and willing to receive, consider and, perhaps, implement new thoughts and processes. Contrary to what the pigs proclaimed in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”- “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” – ethical listening suggests that we are, indeed, all equal and, therefore, the perceptions and recommendations of all must be given due consideration.

As poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran said so beautifully in “The Prophet: On Reason and Passion”: “I would have you consider your judgement and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house. Surely you would not honor one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.”

Listening as a form of communication is an interactive process, and ethical listening gives due consideration to all aspects of what is being transmitted. This is our challenge as communicators, and it is equally our opportunity to ensure that those publics who turn to us for advice and guidance are afforded their opportunity to speak their minds knowing that they will be heard through unbiased ears.

About Kirk


Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Adjunct Professor of Communication at The University of Tampa. He also serves as Director/Ethics Chair, PRSA Tampa Bay, and Director/Chair, Ethics Committee, Global Listening Centre.



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