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.

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.


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