Communication is as much about listening as it is about using words well. Yet, as practitioners, we spend almost all our time involved in messaging, word smithing, and producing talking points. But, what if that was only HALF of what PR is about? What if there was a whole unexplored side to effective PR -- that is, the power and practice of listening? What impact might this have on PR practice and on the building of public relationships?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada was set up as part of a response of abuses committed by the Government of Canada against Indigenous Peoples of Canada in the form of residential schools set up assimilate Aboriginal people into the fast-growing and dominant European culture developing in Canada, for which the Government of Canada had issued a public apology for those abuses. It was the job of the TRC to extend this work and propose a path to reconciliation.
Public relations and culture: an invisible union.
To accomplish its task, over the course of its six years, Commission members travelled around the vast country and listened to hours and hours of stories and testimony. More than 6,700 (see page 2 of report) people gave recorded statements and it resulted in 94 Calls to Action. That's a lot of listening to do. How much trouble might the country have saved itself if it had had a listening ear years ago? How much suffering could have been alleviated? How much national shame could have been avoided? How much better could this public relationship had been managed?
Of course, hindsight is 20//20, but what can we learn from this as public relations professionals that we can apply to Aboriginal relations moving forward? And also to our public relationships today?
Public relationship managers need to know the art of listening.