Why Do We Need to Talk About Behaviour and Listening?
By Dr Martina Topić
Leeds Beckett University, UK
I have written several blogs for the EUPRERA presenting my research into women in public relations and elsewhere I have also written a lot about my research into women in mass communications generally. What strikes me from the research I have designed and led since 2018 is the lack of behavioural conventions in respecting one another, promoting and embracing diversity in all forms, and not listening to one another.
Research I conducted as part of three projects studying the career experiences of women in mass communications industries (advertising, public relations, journalism) clearly showed that how we behave in the organisation has an impact on career progression because not everyone fits into the organisational culture. This is particularly relevant when it comes to social interactions and banter in offices and one of the arguments, I proposed is that organisations need to change HR policies so that it is not just those who are like us that go ahead but anyone regardless of their personalities (Topić, 2023). In addition to that, we need to pay attention to office behaviour because our behaviour within the office context influences work culture, work satisfaction and our productivity at work, and if any of these are not sufficiently high, this can also have an impact on wellbeing, which then again influences satisfaction and productivity, thus presenting a vicious circle.
Behaviour is not just group behaviour (sociological perspective) or behaviour respective of cognitive process (psychological perspective) but behaviour can also be gendered and if this gendered behaviour exists within social groups at work, as it often seems to be the case in mass communications industries, this then presents a challenge and forms masculine habitus as Pierre Bourdieu (2001) argued in the Masculine Domination and as my research studies on women within mass communications industries have confirmed. What often influences behaviour within the organisational setting is early socialisation, as many sociological studies have demonstrated for decades, and in my work based on 87 qualitative interviews across three mass communications industries, this impact also proved to be meaningful in driving behaviour within an organisational setting. Therefore, women who grew up playing with boys ended up embracing what has commonly been known as masculine behavioural and communications characteristics and are thus able to fit within the organisational culture and even, in some cases become ‘one of the boys’ because of their blokish behaviour as well as understanding meanings that commonly naturally come to men rather than women (Topić, 2023b, 2021, 2021a, Bourdieu, 2001). These women then also embraced masculine leadership styles and are rarely seen as role models or, as Mills (2014) emphasised, “become so bloke-ified by the macho water in which they swim that many younger women looking up don’t see them as role models for the kind of women they might want to become” (p. 19). Other women, however, fall behind despite presenting role models for other women and this is because most women, due to gendered early socialisation, embrace what is commonly known as feminine behavioural and communications styles.
What happens when one group of people and their distinctive behaviour is appreciated and the other one is not? Groupthink, and only certain perspectives being heard ultimately affecting employee wellbeing, contributing to staff turnover and stifling innovation and creative thinking. Therefore, apart from changing HR policies and ensuring all perspectives and personalities are appreciated so that everyone has a voice, we also need to focus on listening to one another and changing our individual behaviour first. As humans, we often do not listen to others because we are too often busy trying to prepare an answer and contribute to the debate (Brownlee, 2020) even though listening carefully can provide more supportive communication, productive interactions, increased work success and relational satisfaction (Bodie & Fitch-Hauser, 2010, Bashshur, 2015, Ruck et al, 2017, Harvard Business School, 2013).
Therefore, organisations need to start listening to their employees. If women are participating in surveys and interviews and saying they are not being listened to, are excluded from boys’ clubs, and feel uncomfortable with masculine banter and social interactions after work, then organisations need to evaluate whether these particular behaviours and practices are necessary for career progression and whether they should be part of an office culture. In other words, rather than listening through informal networking, which historically always excluded women (Topić et al, 2021), organisations should listen to employees internally and make sure there are policies based on merit and contribution and not informal structures that take only some ahead whilst others are left behind. In other words, organisations need to also listen to other humans and managers and executives need to change their behaviour and start to truly listen. In the world facing the rise of digital communication and post-pandemic work from home, organisations that don’t will lose out and become obsolete. However, organisations are not random organisms, they are formed and run by humans, and thus it is up to every one of us to start listening to one another. The rise of digital media has impacted concentration and information processing (Firth et al, 2019) but it should not change our human behaviour and changes us because our humanity is what makes us human and talking to one another, trying to understand each other, and observing and caring about others around us will benefit organisations and humanity alike (Topić, 2023a).
Bashshur, M. (2015), “When voice matters: a multilevel review of the impact of voice in organizations”, Journal of Management, Vol. 41 No. 5, pp. 1530-1554.
Bodie, G.D. and Fitch-Hauser, M. (2010), “Quantitative research in listening: explication and overview”, in Wolvin, A.D. (Ed.), Listening and Human Communication in the 21st Century, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 46-93.
Bourdieu, P. (2001), Masculine Domination, London, Polity.
Brownlee, D. (2020), “Are you really listening or just waiting to talk? There’s A difference”, Forbes, 8 June, available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danabrownlee/2020/08/06/are-you-really-listening-or-just-waiting-to-talk-theres-a-difference/?sh=5bb86b936085
Firth, J., Torous, J., Stubbs, B., Firth, J.A., Steiner, G.Z., Smith, L., Alvarez-Jimenez, M., Gleeson, J., Vancampfort, D., Armitage, C.J. and Sarris, J. (2019), “The ‘online brain’: how the internet may be changing our cognition”, World Psychiatry, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 119-129.
Harvard Business School (2013), “The impact of employee engagement on performance”, available at: https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/achievers/hbr_achievers_report_sep13.pdf
Mills, E. (2014), “Why Do the Best Jobs Go to Men?”, British Journalism Review, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 17-23.
Ruck, K., Welsh, M. and Menara, B. (2017), “Employee voice: an antecedent to organizational engagement”, Public Relations Review, Vol. 43 No. 5, pp. 904-914.
Topić, M. (2023), ““I am not a typical woman. I don’t think I am a role model” – Blokishness, behavioural and leadership styles and role models”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.
Topić, M. (2023a), “Editorial 28.1: Are we truly listening?”, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 1-5.
Topić, M. (2023b), “‘You really struggle not to come across as bitchy if you are trying to be authoritative’ – blokishness, habitus, behaviour and career experiences of women in public relations”, International Journal of Organization Theory & Behavior, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.
Topić, M. (2021), “Fluffy PR and ‘comms girls’: banter, social interactions and the office culture in public relations in England”, International Journal of Organizational Analysis, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 1321-1336.
Topić, M. (2021a), “It’s something that you should go to HR about’ – banter, social interactions and career barriers for women in the advertising industry in England”, Employee Relations, Vol. 43 No. 3, pp. 757-773.
Topić, M., Carbery, C., Arrigoni, A., Clayton, T., Kyriakidou, N., Gatewood, C., Shafique, S., & Halliday, S. (2021). Women and Networking: A Systematic Literature Review (1985-2021). #WECAN report. Leeds: Leeds Beckett University.