Arthur W. Page Society

Need Better Messaging? Try Listening

The Listening Leader book cover

Organizations trying to build engagement and reputation often seek better messaging. The idea is that, if only we had better messages, people would be convinced how right we are. Of course, being able to make a compelling case is important. Having facts, presenting them in a persuasive way, being a good storyteller – these all are important for those of us who wish to convince others to see things our way.

But successful persuasion also requires a skill that is even more important than message creation. That skill is the art of listening with respect. Ironically enough, it turns out that if one wants to persuade, one must be willing to be persuaded.   

In fact, the best persuaders are those who genuinely are interested in finding common ground and building shared belief. Somehow, in this polarized, reality-TV-inspired, cacophony of angry voices seeking to denigrate those who disagree, we’ve lost sight of the fundamental truth that seeking consensus is far more effective in making the world better than is promoting division.

Sure, some may profit from polarization by getting extreme partisans to fund their hate-mongering. But those who wish to get things done would do well to consider the value of earning public trust by building shared belief.

This is the central idea of the stakeholder engagement part of the Page Model, and it requires an ability to listen and a willingness to accept constructive ideas from others. And, by the way, our messages will be more effective if they are shaped by an understanding of others’ perspectives.

wrote recently about the importance of hearing all voices with an open heart and mind, and I cited two wonderful reads, both from the New York Times, a guest column by Arthur C. Brooks and a speech by Times columnist Bret Stephens.

This time, I would like to recommend a book by Page member Emilio Galli Zugaro and his daughter, Clementina, called The Listening Leader. Emilio was the Head of Group Communications at Allianz from 1992 to 2015. There, he was an admired and transformational leader, who worked closely with three CEOs and helped change the company’s culture, paving the way for a more stakeholder-centric approach. It led to business growth as the company became better attuned to the world around it.

The Zugaros’ book is meant for leaders who wish to be more effective and provides a roadmap to become a communicative leader. They describe “communicative leadership” to be “the corporate translation of empathy and active listening.” Corporate communication executives and, indeed, all leaders, would do well to heed its lessons.

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