One month into 2012 and I’m already singing the blues. Like that Harry Nilsson song from Midnight Cowboy, “Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they say.” Or as Dylan said, “You go your way and I’ll go mine.” 

This may be good news for therapists and mediators, but for Denver public relations pros, this is a bad trend. Public relations is about listening, which is becoming more of a lost art every day. 

Communication is a two-way street. We can’t develop a strategic communications plan without feedback. But how can we understand the feedback we’re getting unless we are willing to listen? If it just sounds like a lot of noise it won’t make any sense.  

In January a Republican congressman from Colorado Springs boycotted the State of the Union Address because he was certain he would not like what he thought the President was about to say. He stopped listening even before anyone said anything. But instead of being ridiculed, he’s considered the new normal by many.

Does anyone expect anything will get accomplished in Washington or in many state legislatures this year? Nothing happened last year, nothing will happen this year and maybe nothing will happen next year. Like boxers, we’ve gone to our separate corners. We only listen to our chosen channels. We only hear the voices of people who think exactly like us. We walk through the valley of nonstop election cycles with our blinders and our headphones to comfort us.

The decibel level is only getting worse. Negative campaign ads dominate the airwaves. Accusations are hurled without regard to truth or consequences. The only ones happy about this are fact checkers and advertising sales people. Talk about job security.

Four years ago, PRSA came out with a statement calling for civility and fairness in election campaigns. Nobody listened. Even so, our job as PR pros is to take that same stand again. Our counsel needs to always be on the side of reason, compassion, respect, tolerance and understanding. Our job is to convince our clients, employers and colleagues that they cannot be successful without a healthy dose of those values. We can disagree as long as we do it respectfully. We can be sure of ourselves only after we consider another opinion. 

Listen up people! The best musicians are the ones who never stop practicing. The smartest people are the ones who never stop learning. The most admired individuals are the ones who treat others with respect. Let’s lower the volume and not be too afraid to listen. Even if we don’t like what we hear.