Be seen and not heard
Ahhh, the good old days when children had a fearful respect for their elders and a good beating spoke louder than words! Thankfully times have changed for most of us. Yet many organisations still drag the past into today. Many leaders ignore the voices of their people and in time there is only silence. Organisational silence.
We ignore communication at our peril. The silence of our people should sound a deafening warning bell. Locked beneath the silence are new ideas and vital information feeding back from our internal operations and external environments.
The paternalism of twentieth-century organisations is glaringly out of date in 2023. See and hear why as we draw back the curtains on the musty and dusty world of organisational silence.
The Terrible Tango of Organisational Silence
Communication is a tango for two. It takes understanding and practice. Each party knows their role and supports each other.
The beat gives us a pathway: we can move to the rhythm. But ask yourself – would I lend my vinyl collection to this person? That’s trust. Trust is earned not demanded. We can respect a position and still distrust the person. Without trust the dance is dull.
Without trust in our partner, we limit our moves. We look away. Our smile drops, our shoulders droop. Our hips point toward the exit. We dance on – but we wont win any medals. Distrust is disconnection.
Poor psychological safety is much like no partner at all. A solo dance where every misstep is severely judged and nothing lies between you and the hard floor. Many stand frozen – unwilling to move.
Trust and safety infect the room – no one is dancing. The managers move their partners but fall behind the beat. They scold their partners. Workers nod and look to the floor. This is culture. In an environment of hierarchy and control it’s easiest to stay silent. And that becomes the expectation for others also.
When the music stops there is silence: the dancers are burnt out. Lack of job satisfaction or resources can leave our people spent, with no will to communicate.
Thankfully, every tango can be untangled.
The Spectres of Fear leading to Organisational Silence
People speak in hushed tones of the silent spectres of reprisal, conflict, and lost control. Treading lightly into the shadows, we find these fears that can silence organisations. Many organisations have ghosts, and the rattling chains of yesterday’s mistakes often remain in the cultural stories.
Where a dissenting voice may lead to the gallows, most will opt for silence. Reprisals that don’t distinguish between ‘organisational citizenship’ and ‘counterproductive work behaviours’ can create fear, and silence everyone. Good and bad ideas remain unuttered.
Unresolved and weaponised, conflict at the end of pointing fingers will calcify, infect relationships and go underground – only to resurface without warning. Conflict is a double edged sword. The conflict of ideas can produce dialectical treasure. Interpersonal conflict can silence reason altogether.
With poor or little information, a team can feel adrift on a sea of uncertainty. Losing control means losing faith in the process. Poor feedback gives no bearings. With words and deeds people can build faith and trust – or destroy it. In the beginning there was the word. Without the ‘why’ there is no real communication – the creation of a community.
The spectres of fear can reduce meaningful work into loneliness and anxiety – unlikely to feature in the A-list of strategic advantages. But by building a safe space for constructive dialogue and feedback, we can turn the office into a bustling marketplace, rather than a frigid courtroom.
We’re not ghost hunters at mentokc, we’re fear busters. By shining a light on these shadowy fears, we can cast away the eerie silence plaguing our organisations, replacing it with the harmonious hum of a well-oiled machine.
The Legacy of Organisational Silence
Organisational silence is filled with missteps and missed opportunities.This silent plague stretches its icy fingers into adaptation and innovation. Trying to navigate a world of constant change with no new ideas becomes a Sisyphean task.
The symptoms don’t stop there. The silence cultivates misunderstandings, confusion and conflicts. The team, feeling unheard and unvalued, reducing morale and engagement. People who are infantilised by an authoritarian manager often come to accept that they are not responsible. Learned helplessness is the voice of disempowerment.
Meanwhile, unclarity undermines critical decisions and strategies. Our quiet organisation begins to groan and creak. The lack of open debate and discussions turns decision-making into a bottleneck, slowing the organisation’s progress. Often internal systems are battling each other and wasting resources in the process. It isn’t long before productivity, quality, safety and cultural issues are impossible to ignore.
Breaking the Organisational Silence
But organisational silence isn’t an incurable malady. With the right dosage of trust and collaboration, the people will be heard. When decisions are openly communicated, everyone can invest in the goal.
Amplifying Employee Engagement
When employee engagement drops you’re bound to see communication freeze over. Like a forest without birdsong it’s clear there is a problem. Without birds there is no seeding – the cycle of rejuvenation is broken.
However, at mentokc we’ve got a few tricks in the backpack to fire up the engagement barbecue. For example, kitting out your team with nifty communication tools is a surefire way to kickstart the kōrero. Add to this a generous serving of clear feedback, and a couple of ‘well-done’ rewards for a job done right. Chuck in opportunities for inter-team activities and team-building shindigs, and you’ll see employee engagement start to climb. It’s about ensuring everyone feels valued and connected.
So, let’s ramp up our employee engagement and bring the noise!
Turning Up the Talk to break the organisational silence
Craft an environment that celebrates open and honest communication. Consider offering a space where everyone can share their concerns without worrying about landing in hot water.
Encourage feedback is also key – just keep it constructive. Focus on learning opportunities.
Be proactive in building open communication, reward those who step up to share their ideas.
With these strategies you’ll be nurturing an environment humming with open communication, trust, collaboration, and melodic productivity.
Openness and Transparency
Openness and transparency is like a good, sturdy fence protecting your organisation’s reputation. By backing our colleagues, we can spark a bonfire of trust, openness and transparency that’ll warm the whole team.
Providing Effective Feedback
Feedback in the workplace is essential. It helps your team members assess their performance and identify areas they can grow in.
Aim for constructive, tailored advice – focus on their shiny moments and areas that could use a touch more elbow grease. That’s the secret recipe to brewing a hearty workplace culture full of respect and trust.
Celebrate dialogue and debate, in your organisation. Encourage people to feel empowered to voice their thoughts freely. Champion curiosity and lend an ear to the wisdom that bubbles up.
Staying open to critical feedback is like taking a long, hard look in the mirror – it’s how we spot the ways we can improve.
A robust debate can unearth innovative solutions. Keep the debate focussed on ideas and outcomes. People should not be a topic for discussion.
Wrapping It Up
Organisational silence is the cause and consequence of a dysfunctional culture. We can tackle this problem and create open and transparent workplaces. Openness and transparency can be especially productive when paired with effective feedback, and a psychologically safe culture.
I want help improving my organisation’s communication. Let’s chat!