Do you remember your parents ever saying “silence is golden”?
In other words when the children have gone to bed and there’s quiet in the house, it’s just bliss.
As a parent myself, when the kids were much younger, I can relate to this.
But what about when it comes to your business? In that case, silence may not always be golden.
As owners and managers, we say we want feedback from our employees and peers; but then when it’s received, how do we react?
It’s human to get offended and therefore defensive when we receive negative feedback. We tend initially not to see it as an opportunity to learn something new about ourselves.
And when we see someone else that oftentimes are delusional about their view of themselves or their ideas, we remain silent, perhaps for fear that we’ll upset them.
Just like when Simon Cowell tells a participant on the X-Factor that they can’t sing, the reaction from the audience says it all – it’s not good to say things as it is.
In that situation where the participant has not been told the truth by their parents, siblings and relations; what’s the right thing to do?
Allow the person to continue on throughout their life believing that they’re going to be an amazing successful singer, and encourage them along the way, or should they be told early on so as to lower their expectations?
And on the other hand, when we see something that is wrong or we feel it’s not the right thing to do morally, we keep quiet.
So let’s take a look at three types of silence that are detrimental to your organisation:
Morrison and Milliken define Organisational Silence as a behavioural choice that can deteriorate organisational performance.
Employees often have ideas, information and opinions for constructive ways to improve work and organisations. Sometimes these employees express their ideas, information and opinions; and other times they remain silent and withhold their views.
The effects of organisational silence is detrimental to organisations often causing an escalating level of dissatisfaction among employees. This manifests in absenteeism, low productivity and turnover. It kills innovation and results in poorly planned and executed projects, low morale and a damaged bottom line. This attitude can also affect the well-being of employees, with some developing depression and other health problems.
The creation of a climate of silence in an organisation is said to be caused by managers’ fear of receiving negative feedback, especially from subordinates. Another factor is that managers often hold the view that employees are self-interested and untrustworthy, and will therefore discourage upward communication.
This is compounded by the belief amongst employees that speaking up about problems is not worth the effort, and voicing one’s opinions and concerns is dangerous to their career.
In research that was carried out, supervisors’ attitude to silence were found to be the strongest predictor of silence behaviour. This means that employees may formulate a silent behaviour according to how they perceive their supervisors’ attitudes to opinions being expressed.
So when it comes to your organisation; how much are your managers encouraging and receptive to feedback, opinions, ideas and views from their team? How can open and honest feedback be improved in your organisation?
Willful Blindness is a term used in law to describe a situation in which a person seeks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally keeping himself or herself unaware of facts that would render him or her liable.
In order words, the person intentionally turns a blind eye to an ethical problem and subsequently pleads ignorant of facts.
Perhaps what will come to mind for you will be the movie, Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts. But there are many situations where willfull blindness persists – in banks and financial institutions where products were mis-sold; in the churches where decades of child abuse were hidden; in the entertainment industry where we see the results of the #MeToo campaign.
It exists in organisations both small and large, where people turn a blind eye to an ethical issue and choose to keep silent. It happens in communities, and it happens in families.
Influences like people’s fear of repercussion if they report it, or the view that an individual’s opinion is not going to make a difference, or the view of how whistle blowers are treated; all lead to people keeping silent. But under law, pleading ignorance cannot be a defence under the terms of Willful Blindness.
Like Organisational Silence described above, what are you doing to detect unethical practices within your organisation? What happens if it’s endemic from the top down? What is the right thing to do?
Have you ever sat at your desk daydreaming for a better life?
You perform your duties to the best of your ability, but yet inside you’re deeply unhappy.
You have issues going on in your life that brings you to the point of questioning your self-belief and confidence. You’re unsure about your future and as a result you take longer to make decisions. And perhaps you’ve had many dark nights of the soul. But you can’t tell anybody about how you’re really feeling inside. What will they think? How will it affect your career? What will you do?
We say we want open conversations about mental health. But in reality, as an organisation do we really?
The impact for the individual are just as high-risk as they are for the company. For the individual, they may be wondering how it’s going to affect their career path if they say anything. The organisation on the other hand is worried about the consequences of knowing that an individual is under a lot of stress, or even depressed.
What will the company do? What will it cost them? How will they handle it? They can’t be seen to want the individual out of the company. What if they go off on long-term sick leave, then what?
Through my mentoring with organisations, the number of times I’ve had conversations with individuals in executive positions that are feeling depressed to the point of suicide ideation, are countless.
Yet thankfully they feel comfortable telling me, safe in the knowledge that it’s not going to be spoken about, but yet we can help to eliminate their dark feelings, which gives them huge relief.
As an individual, who are you turning to, to get help with your dark feelings, your self-questioning about your confidence and your self-worth?
As an organisation, what are you doing to allow your employees a forum to discuss their issues, without them feeling there is a risk? It’s not an option to turn a blind eye.
There’s no doubt in my mind that when it comes to discussions about depression and suicide, we’re going to see a lot more people trying to battle with it, deep within their own personal silence. It’s becoming an epidemic, and the conventional way of dealing with depression is not going to make the grade.
So you see, whether it be organisational silence, willful blindness, or personal silence, the fact of the matter is, sometime silence is not always golden.
But it is a very serious issue for your organisation, your employees, your profitability, productivity, your customers and your community.
But the real question is, what are you going to do about it for your business?
If the above has raised any concerns for your organisation, feel free to get in touch so that we can discuss more about what can be done to address these important issues for your business.
To find out more about Willful Blindness, take a look at this Ted Talk.
On the subject of Organisational Silence and the findings from research, check out these two reports: