- Karen Gregory
Silence is the best reply to a fool – Imam Ali (AS)
Ouch. That kind of hurts. And yet, it’s not untrue. How many times have you found yourself not engaging, not responding because the risk wasn’t worth the reward? How many times do you estimate your employees do the same thing? Too often over the last few decades have I seen people not voice an opinion, provide feedback, defend themselves, or make improvement suggestions because the risk just wasn’t worth the reward. I’ve been guilty of it myself at times.
Active employees either remain silent or tell you what you want to hear when they are in self-preservation mode because unemployment or no employment does not pay the bills. Employees that are currently leaving may give you a broader picture in an exit interview because at that point they have nothing to lose.
The old cliché “choose your battles” are at work here. The statistics are surprising in that a full 50% of the time employees are guilty of exercising their right to remain silent. So, half the time an employee will open up, and half the time that same employee will choose not to speak up. The question is why?
The three main reasons employees opt to remain silent are:
1. Speaking up is futile.
2. Fear of punishment.
3. Fear of loss of employment.
The challenge we have in leadership is how do we know when an employee is not opening up, and as a leader do my employees trust me enough to open up or am I viewed as intimidating, unapproachable, or overbearing? As with so many of the nuances of leadership you start with self-reflection.
Analyze your interactions with your employees. Does anything stand out that points to employees not being comfortable with open communication? Have exit interviews revealed anything about your leadership that may point to suppressed communication? Have any of your employees told you there may be a problem? Or has the grapevine exposed problems? Do you have problems with an individual employee or have you noticed problems with multiple members of your team?
Regardless of what you might discover, open communication is critical in your success and in the success of the organization you represent. Your best bet for creating an environment of trust where employees feel comfortable with honest communication is to develop good relationships with your employees. Implement these steps to help build trust:
1. Conduct one-on-one meetings with the individuals on your team. There really just isn’t a better way to develop a relationship of trust.
2. When an employee gives you open, honest communication DO NOT penalize them if you do not agree with them. DO NOT hold grudges, make snide comments, or threaten them if you do not agree with them. DO respond to suggestions from employees – again even if you don’t agree with them.
3. Be honest. Employees want honesty – regardless of whether the communication could be perceived as good or bad.
4. Participate in a 360 Self-Assessment – be sure to make it anonymous so everyone feels confident in answering questions openly and honestly. Then do something positive with the results.
5. Make time for your employees – be there as a resource, listen when they speak, communicate in person (not just by email), be open to suggestions for processes, improvements, strategies, etc.
When communication suffers it will result in damage to the organization. Employees become disengaged and indifferent. Productivity suffers. Innovation and creative is diminished. Employee turnover rises. The list goes on. Silence is golden in the active listening process, but can be detrimental when employees shut down. Make communication a priority in your day-to-day leadership.