The Cloak of Silence: Why Your Employees Won’t Communicate

The Cloak of Silence-Why Your Employees Won't Communicate

There are all of these articles about communication and engagement. I have contributed my thoughts in some of them. They are all useful in some regard if you want to get to the bottom of your engagement and communication issues. Except, we would have to include the one nuisance variable that most leaders and companies won’t cop to and that is: The cloak of silence.

We are working and living in the age of knowledge. We have more data points than we can use and have more information at our finger tips than previous generations. If given a chance, most leaders will cite wanting to understand their employees better. They want to understand things like motivations, propensity to leave, career aspirations etc.

What makes this problematic is leaders and companies want to know these things, but are often times not willing to ingest and digest the answers. Often times, when the answer they receive is unfavorable for them or the company – they react. The reaction is negative and usually sets such a tone that any further or future communication like it will be non-existent, censored and/or stifled.

Around the time of the 9/11 attacks here in NY the MTA came out with this whole campaign that said: ” If you see something, say something.” Many businesses latched onto this saying and started using it as a way to appear as though employees should feel free to share the things they are noticing and should feel safe to do so without fearing retaliation. There are some good eggs that truly stand by having an open, honest and communicative culture.

Others still, prefer a cloak of silence. They prefer for employees to be seen and not heard. These are companies that like when people speak up to praise the organization and its leaders. Companies that prefer a cloak of silence literally squash and black list anyone who dreams of raising a concern or anything deemed unfavorable for the company.

Let us examine through this example:

I worked for a company in a previous life that loved to hold town halls. If you know anything about town halls you know that they are meant to be open forums where people can come to have their ideas and concerns heard by those in power. The goal is that healthy debate and conversation is brought to the table by the constituents and those in power so that amicable solutions can be implemented.

When we had town halls, they spent weeks communicating the importance of our participation. It was even shared that no question was “dumb” or “irrelevant”. Yet, the first town hall I attended at this company was quieter than a church during Sermon. The CHRO spent an hour speaking about projects, opportunities, our organizational scorecard and then asked for questions. One of my co-workers raised her hand and if looks could kill she would have been dead. She continued to ask her question about adding additional members to our team, because of the excessive workload. Her question was answered abruptly and dismissed.

After the town hall, some of my more tenured co-workers spoke among themselves about how this employee who spoke up never learns her lesson. As in, she should have remained quiet instead, because clearly her question was not welcomed.

Every subsequent meeting and town hall was marred by a cloak of silence. We all knew that it wasn’t worth our time to ask questions or raise issues in these meetings despite what leadership was saying. They didn’t really want to know. It was all about faking their way to engagement and open communication – except they were doing a really poor job at it.

If you have noticed the same in your company here are some tips for building trust and getting your employees to communicate with you again:

1) Don’t ask questions, if you don’t want the answers. What people experience in their jobs day-to-day is very real. Don’t ask them to lie to you so your feelings aren’t hurt. Your employees have a right to not work in fear and you deserve to hear the truth so you can improve.

2) If delivery of certain messages are your concern, set a few ground rules for your town halls and meetings. Let’s be honest, sometimes intention doesn’t meet delivery at the finish line when it comes to communication. Having a few ground rules for meetings and town halls will help to set the tone. Be sure that your employees know you will abide by them as well.

3) When they speak, you listen and then take action. What is the point of having all of these data points, if you are going to simply hoard them – only to do nothing with it. When your employees speak up it’s an act of bravery on their part. The way they know that you have heard them is by acknowledging what was said and taking action.

Communicating doesn’t have to be difficult. Once you get over your own fears and needs to control what and how your employees say something – it will be a smoother ride for both parties.

Why I Have Trust Issues With HR

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

You all know I love me some HR. I believe in its fundamental tenets of understanding work behavior. I also enjoy the small window of opportunity we have to balance both the needs of the business and the employee. To many, it seems like a job anyone can do, but for those that do it everyday and do it right; they know it takes a special kind of professional.

The rebuttal to this line of thinking is: “Well, if it requires a “special” person – why does it appear that anyone with any background can do the job?” Indeed, there are HR practitioners from a myriad of degree fields and backgrounds that have found their way to HR. Do they all belong there? No.

Human Resources is a profession whose entire existence is predicated on how well they manage or in some organizations herd other humans in an effort to ensure the companies success and a healthy bottom-line. Yet, it has been my experience that we have a tough time managing ourselves. In some cases, it is at the precise time that some people became HR practitioners that they forgot who they were and why they were there. Values forgotten. Integrity went out the door. Ethical behavior- what’s that? In fact, I am sure some never set out to break the law in life, but they have.

My name is Janine and I have trust issues with HR.

When I worked in HR, I met a lot of great professionals along the way. There were also far more that left a lot to be desired. I found myself at odds much of the time with how I chose to operate versus “the way” HR chose to position itself in the organization. This disconnect garnered me fans by way of my internal and external partners, but not with my own HR brethren.

Here’s what got me in trouble:

  • Working with my internal partners to ensure we had “real” and “practical” solutions to their concerns.
  • Advocating for candidates that were qualified, but would have otherwise been set aside for less qualified candidates.
  • Keeping up on HR and business trends, practices and laws in an effort to ensure that we were not only compliant, but remained relevant.
  • Doing what I knew was right.

If you can find anything wrong with what I detailed above, comment below and let me know. I am always interested in another viewpoint. As I said, I have trust issues with HR. It took me some time to muster up the courage to say this about a discipline I love, but that has so often disappointed me. Do you know how disconcerting it is to be bullied, harassed, thrown to the wolves all while working in HR and having to sell the value of what you do to employees? Moreover, it is painful to have to bite your tongue when employee after employee comes to you for help and an ear and you can’t tell them that you too – have trust issues with HR.

Here’s what I have learned:

1) Businesses need to stop involving HR in their dirt. That is to say, let HR do what they do. Don’t corrupt us or our efforts.

2) HR practitioners everywhere need to have enough backbone to call out unethical, illegal and toxic behaviors without hesitation. Stop being brokers for unethical and illegal practices. When the employees understand that you don’t have their back, your job is over.

3) Here it is all of these years we have been asking for a seat at the grand table, yet we let anyone and everyone sit with us. The same way we have to earn the respect of the C-Suite is the same way we should operate as we usher in new talent to HR.

Everyone can’t sit with us.

It takes a certain person, with compassion, business acumen, a desire to continue learning, discernment and above all the want to build cohesive, non-toxic work environments.

Personally, I get excited about providing solutions to workplace debacles, struggles and blindspots. I like to understand what my partners need and then I go to work crafting something they can use. This is how HR is supposed to work.

I continue to wait for the day, when I stop hearing how HR has failed employees. I hope we reach a point where we start to safeguard our discipline from those who would rather detract from it or turn it into the cesspools that exist elsewhere in business.

We have to do better. We need to do better.

Like what you read?

More insights on this topic will be on The Aristocracy of HR You Tube Channel this week. Click here to subscribe for more commentary on my articles.


“Ask Czarina Live” is Coming to a Periscope Near You

Ask Czarina Live Blog Tile


If you haven’t been bitten by the Periscope bug yet, let me coax you to join me this upcoming Thursday, 10/22 as I kick off my weekly Periscope show: “Ask Czarina Live”. This will be an opportunity for me to tackle topics both in the HR realm and some things that may be a little bit more mainstream. Either way, I’m looking forward to connecting with you (my readers) and others on a different level.

Ask Czarina Live

To date, I have braved my way through over 20 Periscope videos. I can assure you each have been recorded with the same spirit and heart as this blog. I’m not claiming to be a “guru”,”ninja”, or ” a professional who will teach you how to make a million dollars in one day”. What I can promise you is information and dialogue that is truthful and helpful.  Sound too simple? Then, this may not be the show for you. That’s all I have. I am willing to share what has helped me to be successful in various aspects of my life- in the hopes that it may help you as well.

Whether it is sharing my thoughts on keeping it together during crazed days of parenting  to the latest world of work headline, I will be spending 30 minutes with you every Thursday sharing my thoughts and taking your questions. There are so many topics and so little time to capture it all in blog posts. Sometimes you just want to chat with good people about ideas and things going on in your life in real-time.

If you like what you see here or even on The Aristocracy of HR You Tube Channel, you will enjoy this show.

Here’s an idea of the format:

1) 15 minutes of dialogue around my topic of choice.

2) 15 minutes Q&A on any topic you choose to probe me about.

 This week’s topic is: What Would It Take For An Employer To Keep You?

There was a recent article by called: “Do These 8 Things and Your Employees Will Never Want to Leave“. It simply lists 8 actions that employers should take to retain their employees. It’s an interesting read and worth exploring on Periscope to see if any of it matters a lot or just a little. There are many valuable points in the article and yet there is at least one that makes me uncomfortable. We will explore why and I hope to hear your thoughts and rebuttals as well.

Join me on Thursday at 11pm EST/10pm CST/8pm PST for the first ever “Ask Czarina Live”. In addition to viewing it on Periscope, within the 24-hour window allotted, I will be posting the replays of “Ask Czarina Live” to “The Aristocracy of HR” You Tube Channel for those of you not ready to take the Periscope plunge.

It’s going to be fun, fresh, and insightful. I look forward to seeing you there.

Want more? Click here to watch the latest “Ask Czarina” episode. Subscribe to  “The Aristocracy of HR” You Tube Channel to be notified when new episodes are published.

The Value of Employee Feedback in Meetings


Courtesy of

Courtesy of


Lola Dart


Today’s post is by guest Aristocrat contributor Lola Dart. Lola Dart is the creator of The MINTOA™ Mentality and owner of Live and Learn with Lola. She works together with clients to make their lives better by teaching them how to transform their motivations into accomplishments. Connect with Lola on Facebook and Twitter: @TheLolaDart.


My team and I had just finished revising a textbook and adding a new online video series to accompany it. The revisions and additions caused the book sales to more than triple over the previous year. As the project was coming to a close, I realized the success we were about to experience, but in turn – I was more concerned about our success as a team.

I knew that the project finished earlier than planned and used fewer resources than allotted. I also knew that the team seemed happy and satisfied with their work- but as an Industrial Engineer, I wanted to make things better and document our successful project process for the future.

My idea was to gather feedback on what I had done well as a Project Manager and what I could improve upon.  I wanted to do this by having individual meetings with every team member who had worked on the project. Before I started these meetings, I reached out to a couple of team members to ask their opinion on the idea of the feedback meeting itself. Our team hadn’t conducted anything like this before – but the company had tried various ways to get input from employees in the past.

Honesty is the best policy

My team was very open and honest from the start. By telling me stories of their past feedback experiences, we were able to craft a situation that was geared towards success.

One team member shared the numerous times that feedback had been given and was not implemented. She said that: “it felt like a waste of time if the feedback wasn’t going to be used”. So, I let them know exactly how their ideas were going to be accounted for. I created a document and incorporated their feedback into it. This way, not only would our team be better served in the future – but the reach would extend to any team performing these tasks in the future.

Another team member shared the experiences he had with managers who asked for feedback and said they would be open to it; but then spent the whole meeting justifying their actions or explaining away situations. He said it can turn out to feel more like a criticism or even a battle. So, we came up with an idea. Instead of having a meeting about how well I managed, we set the scope of the meeting to be the project itself.

The feedback meetings became targeted. The scope of the meeting explored the aspects of the project that ran smoothly. Additionally, it was a chance for us to examine aspects that needed to be ironed out. The focus was on the solutions. For every issue identified by a team member, their solution was requested. The outcome of the meeting was a document shared with other teams.

While in the feedback meetings, I listened. That is the most important part. In a meeting like this, it can be so easy to turn things into a debate or argument that leaves all parties on the defense. Instead, I limited my responses to follow-up questions. When I didn’t understand something, I asked for clarification. I consistently expressed gratitude and appreciation that they took time to seriously consider how we can make our team projects better in the future. I also took a ton of notes. I let them know that their feedback was important and I was documenting it.

The simplest approach is usually the best…

As a manager, it was really helpful to learn what was working. It’s reassuring to know that some things aren’t broken and don’t need to be fixed. For example, my team liked to have check-in meetings twice a week. It made them feel connected to the project and the team. It also held them accountable to finishing their assigned tasks. They also liked the assignment spreadsheet I had created to keep track of where each piece of the puzzle was at all times. I thought that a spreadsheet might have been a little overwhelming. However, numerous team members said that they enjoyed being able to see the entire trajectory of each piece and that it held them accountable to finish their tasks – when they could see the later steps at a glance. My team also provided helpful solutions to the overall run of the meetings. For example, now we end meetings on time – even if we are in the middle of a discussion. We either hold the discussion until the next meeting or schedule a follow-up call.

After implementing these feedback meetings, I realized that I not only created a document that could be used each time I start a new project with my team, but a valuable practice to be used organization-wide.  Throughout the company, projects and products are benefiting from the results of the feedback meetings I implemented.


“I am Revolutionizing HR” HUNITE – In Work, In Life, In The Moment




We are a company that believes trusting and supporting the power of individuals will lead to greater things in the workplace. After more than a decade of building HR portals, we realized it was time to revolutionize the way we work, because the reality is that traditional methods are simply not meeting the needs of today’s changing workforce.

Consider the thoughts of a worker: “My work influences who I am and what becomes of me, not only as a worker but as a person. So anything that supports me in being more connected at work and more effective in life is something for me”.

The workers of today are self-taught digital managers. Outside of our working hours, we are used to having all the information we want at our fingertips through apps on our mobile devices. It doesn’t have to be different at work. People also want to be connected and trusted to contribute, without being constantly monitored. Self-service combined with intranet tried to capture this, but is cumbersome for employees, particularly for remote employees without access to computers or email. Adoption is a problem, particularly in a generationally changing workforce where millennial’s represent a growing majority of the work population.

But how do you capture this as an employer? How do you relate to this and support your own goals–and theirs– in a cohesive and non-invasive way? The answer is trust. Trust both frees and motivates.

Trust is a backbone of relationships in work and life. It is often perceived to be granted from the employer to the employee through social collaboration tools, which however are generally attached to strict guidelines or monitoring policies. Employees in turn often view these limitations as undermining the purity of that trust. Facebook or WhatsApp are popular tools among dynamic workforces, but the enterprise cannot really utilize these platforms effectively. Corporate social tools implemented and monitored from the top down are all too often unsuccessful. Workers fear exposing themselves. At best, they use them cautiously; at worst they reject them wholesale. It is a key aspect of why many HR practitioners do not get the results that they would like out of intranet and collaboration initiatives currently.

Hunite sees itself as a connecter within the “black box” of any enterprise, especially among dynamic workforces. By actually entrusting them to a tool that promotes self-organization and growth, employees can become better at what they do and can be recognized within their teams or self-made networks. Employers can positively influence this disconnected realm where there is little reach or control. The key, though, is respecting the balance between control and trust for everyone involved.

Our mission: to access the potential of workers within enterprises for the good of all. By adopting this tool, that mission can be fulfilled for both individual and enterprise. Individual workers can effectively support themselves not only in work, but also in life, while enterprises can reach out to connected workers with meaningful information in a non-invasive way.

Free from fear, workers can begin to learn—and love—an unencumbered and self-organizing way of life, while employers and HR practitioners reap the benefits of increased employee contribution, motivation, efficiency & success.

Hunite will play an important–and revolutionary–role in transforming and building competitive workforces to drive revenue. Help your people be connected in work and more effective in life!

Author Biography

Kym Lukins works as an Industry Specialist at Hunite. He investigates the needs of workers in dynamic workforces. Previous work in customer focused industries such as hospitality and retail along with study in international HR management has spurred an interest in engagement and connectivity of workers on an international level. He is a firm believer that mobile will play a huge role in improving not only the ability for people to communicate in work and life, but also the chance to balance it in a more effective and cohesive manner. 


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