Listening Deeply and Why It’s So Important at this Moment

By Edward Knop

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Edward Knop is Emeritus Professor and Former Associate Director for the International Institute for Sustainable Development, Colorado State University.

In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election many people are raising questions about what went so wrong with our anticipation and understanding of the outcome, with the reaction of so many in the country who were  apparently left feeling diminished, even betrayed, by seemingly uncaring corporations and ineffectual government—matters of organizational structure and culture—without fully understanding related processes of globalization, demographic shifts, technology and environmental change at work.

Analysts recognize people’s pessimistic perceptions as a predictable human reaction to such long-term processes of change.  Yet there is considerable truth in the public frustrations evidenced, as organizations are in fact rather emotionally neutral, commonly uncaring and unresponsive to personal concerns, with consequences for the efficiency and effectiveness of the collective and its people.  The question then becomes:  what could and should have been done about the situation earlier and now?   One key answer is in Howard Stein’s powerfully insightful, delightfully written and exemplified, thoroughly relevant and vastly new edition that summarizes the situation as a past failure and ongoing need for all involved to Listen Deeply to the personal concerns of others—carefully, patiently, empathetically in a way that honors their story with its embedded facts and feelings—as well as considering our own related objective and subjective reactions.  This, he convincingly argues, not only gives more complete insights for management actions but also is directly therapeutic itself.

stein-listening-jacket-catThe book focuses on the intersection of organizational and personal concerns in various subject settings—industrial, administrative, educational, medical and others—in which common themes emerge as challenges—dehumanization, alienation, reaction, resignation, disintegration—each of which can be helped by processes of Listening Deeply.  Stein delivers his simultaneously profound yet practical insights in easily-understood, interesting narrative using bits of preface and explanation wrapped around illustrative stories that give feeling to the points.  This is much of the method of deep listening.  Other method themes will be recognized by some academics as parts of the psychoanalytic and Post Modern literatures.  While the first edition of the book (1994) was a widely-valued contribution to the literature on organizational culture, it was probably enough ahead of its time to have not been as appreciated as it should have been.  Those times of expanded social awareness are now, to which Stein adds more than twenty years of experience and insights, making the present book much improved and especially relevant to current concerns and crises of life in and of social organizations and societies dominated by them.

Listening Deeply can be ordered from the Chicago Distribution Center at 800-621-2736 or orders@press.uchicago.edu.

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