Silence is Killing our Organisation

Spiral of Silence
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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

Silence is Killing our Organisation

🔥NEW Inorganisations, speaking outisnot always encouraged or appreciated. Individuals whodisagree withtheir companyand publicly express their concerns arerunning the risk of being punished by a heavy hand. So silence is everywhere and expected. But research showsthis is costly to both the individual and the organisation. Silence can create feelingsofhumiliation, pernicious anger, and resentment on individuals. And existing ideas, if unexpressed, can contaminate every interaction, shut down creativity, and undermine productivity acrossthe organisation.

REASONS TO BE SILENT
When people choose not to confront a difference andkeepa relationship, silence starts. Although dissimilarities and diversities areinevitable and should bevalued in organisations, most peoplefind it is easier todissimulatedifferencesthanto discuss them. We stay silent when we fear a loss of status or even expulsion among peers if we differ from the rest. We obey when our manager sends a powerful signalfor us to keep quiet. We cover up the differences when there is a pressure of getting jobs done quick.

THE COSTS OF KEEPING SILENCE
Silencing does not resolve any problem, andthat is the main issue. "Pushing some differencebeneath thesurface"onlygeneratesnegative emotions onus. And as long as theproblemexists, ourrepressed feelings remain andimpactthe way weconnect with others. A sense of disconnection in our relationships can make usdefensive. We becomemorefearful that if wespeak out, we willget into trouble. We drag ourselvesinto a destructive "spiralof silence", which is set in motion.

On other occasions, wesilenceourselvesin the short-sighted belief thatwe can park the differences and get our jobs donequicker. But doing this onlyimpacts our creativity, learning, and decision-making, which creates additional problems for us to solve in the timeline. So we need to be carefulaboutsilencing ourdifferences in response, or we may end upin such a self-made "speed trap".

HOW TO BREAK THE SILENCE?
Qe should replace the spirals of silence withspirals of communication. This is possible, but doing so requires us to act differently and create the context in which people will value the expression of such difference. The following practices can be helpful for that:
  • RECOGNISE YOUR POWER. No matter what rank we belong to in an organisation, we have the power to express ourselves and to empower others to speak out. Be the firstto bring differencesoutinto the open sothey canbe discussed.Just be carefulto presentour information in a way that the others can absorb. The approachcan ensure the discussionto be a mutual explorationof theissues.
  • ACT DEVIANTLY. To breaksilence, sometime we need to act deviantly. Deviance is a creative act, search out and invent newapproaches to do things. By challenging a norm, weplay an active role in changing it.
  • BUILD A COALITION. Reaching out to othersgives us the strength to breaksilence. We know we are not alone andhavemore legitimacy and resources. We may feel embarrassedto approach people to join us, but often we may find that many people feel the same as us.
⇨ How do you perceive silence at the workplace? And how doyoubreak it?

Source:Perlow, L. and Williams, S. (2003), "Is Silence Killing Your Company?", Harvard Business Review, May 2003.

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