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Is Silence Killing Your Company?

Business Books in Brief

‘Is Silence Killing Your Company?’
A research paper by Leslie A. Perlow and Stephanie Williams found that many times, and often with the best intentions, people decide it’s more productive to remain silent about their differences with others in the workplace than to air them. There’s no time, they think, or no point in going against what the boss says.

 

But as the research showed, silence doesn’t smooth things over or make people more productive. It merely pushes differences beneath the surface and can set in motion powerfully destructive forces.

When people stay silent about important disagreements, they can begin to fill with anxiety, anger, and resentment. As long as the conflict is unresolved, their feelings remain potent, making them increasingly distrustful, self-protective, and all the more fearful that if they speak up they will be embarrassed or rejected.

 

These vicious spirals of silence can be replaced with virtuous spirals of communication, but that requires individuals to find the courage to act differently and executives to create the conditions in which people will value the expression of differences.

 

Their sense of insecurity grows, leading to further acts of silence, more defensiveness, and more distrust, thereby setting into motion a destructive “spiral of silence.” Sooner or later, they mentally opt out – sometimes merely doing what they’re told but contributing nothing of their own, sometimes spreading discontent and frustration throughout the workplace that can lead them, and others, to leave without thinking it through.

These vicious spirals of silence can be replaced with virtuous spirals of communication, but that requires individuals to find the courage to act differently and executives to create the conditions in which people will value the expression of differences.

All too often, behind failed products, broken processes, and mistaken career decisions are people who chose to hold their tongues. Breaking the silence can bring an outpouring of fresh ideas from all levels of an organisation – ideas that might just raise the organisations performance to a whole new level.

 

Shift your mind-set from asking whether this is one of those rare times when you should speak to asking instead whether this is one of those rare times when you should remain quiet.

 

But some caveats before you open you mouth – choose your timing and topic wisely.

  • Some issues are simply not worth raising, and you don’t want to unnecessarily turn small differences of opinion into broad conflicts.
  • Avoid addressing a tough issue with your boss or colleague when an impending deadline is looming, unless of course it is key to the project you are working on.
  • Be cognisant of the emotions at play – both yours and your colleagues. Best not to flag an issue when your / your colleagues temper is raised or people are upset.

 

The key piece of advice is this: shift your mind-set from asking whether this is one of those rare times when you should speak to asking instead whether this is one of those rare times when you should remain quiet.

 

About the Author

‘Is Silence Killing Your Company?’. A research paper by Leslie A. Perlow and Stephanie Williams featured in the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads – ‘On Communication’. For the full article go to hbr.org

 

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