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Submitted by mattsheppard on


Hi all,

I'm hoping someone will be able to help me track down a reference for the "Communication is what the listener does" quote from Peter Drucker. Does anyone know where, specifically, he used the phrase, or failing that, where it is paraphrased from?

Many thanks, Matt Sheppard

jaleraas's picture

I have a 1974 edition of Drucker’s Management (a hand-me-down copy from a business grad student).  In it, he has a chapter on Managerial Communication (481-493).  He says something to the effect that the Communicator does not communicate; he utters. The recipient, or listener, is actually the one who communicates or, as he puts it, “percieves” that transmission.  The whole of the chapter goes on to discuss the importance that perception (some might call it circumstance) has on communication.  Throughout the chapter he intimates that communication starts with the listener, but he never directly qoutes it.  The only direct quote that comes close is “it is the recipient that communicates.”  I'd speculate that he might have condensed his idea in an interview or something to that effect.  Drucker goes on to says that the current organizational model (top down, the book was written in 1973-4) is backwards (if I’ve got it right) and that organizations need to develop an upward communications model.  His idea reminds me of Senge’s Learning Organization; however, I have only limited knowledge of this particular phenomenon. Wow, now I'm itching to investigate how much Senge was influenced by Drucker?  Possible?  Anyway. This is a great, albiet huge, book, and it is well worth the read.


I’ve also read Drucker’s article, Managing Oneself (Harvard Business Review, 1999), which talks about the difference between being a reader and listener. But here again he does not directly mention the quote you cited earlier.  It may be that he said it in an interview or something.  As of yet, I am unsure. 


I hope this helps. 


Mark's picture
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Wendii and I were working on a series of casts about Effective Communication recently, and this quote came up.  I wanted to cite it correctly, and went to Management, and guess what we discovered?

The author of that quote 

Embarrassing honestly, that I have been mistakenly attributing it to Drucker, correctly identified as to book and place above.  Somehow, I said it differently, and then knew that as good as it sounded, it could NOT have been me, it must have been Drucker.

Got lucky.  But let's be clear: it's HIS idea.


spazm's picture
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    You came up with quite an utterance.  Thank you for this gift.  Whenever I hear it, it motivates me to put my ego aside and focus on my goal in communicating: to be heard, to create a vision of my idea in my listeners mind.  Reminds me to listen actively.

    A gift for you, two of my favorite Drucker quotes on communication.  Now properly sourced to make sure they are actually his!


Listening (the first competence of leadership) is not a skill, it is a discipline.  All you have to do is keep your mouth shut.
-- Peter Drucker, _Managing the Non-Profit Organization__

It assumes, in other words, that the utterer communicates.  But we know that all he does it utter.  Communication is the act of the recipient.
    -- Peter Drucker,  __The Ecological Vision, Reflections on the American Condition__




Jollymom's picture

Love both quotes!!! 

I'll post this when my partner keeps on talking and dont listen to me hahaha :D