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.

Ask Czarina Live Replay: How My Daughters Inspired My Last Livestream

Image taken by Janine N. Truitt.

Image taken by Janine N. Truitt.

Last week, I shared my thoughts on the importance of speaking up when things have gone horribly wrong in society. I also shared that I would be hosting my “Black Out Show” as my first Ask Czarina Live after vacation. What I didn’t realize was how much extra courage and strength I had to muster up to get through my show.

It’s one thing to tell yourself you are going to do something monumental. It is quite another thing to recognize your accountability to deliver a message and story that resonates in spite of the difficulty of the topic.

Prior to the show, I watched the videos of the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile killings again. I watched the breaking news stories for the slain police officers and I immediately became emotional. I attempted to put on makeup to make myself appear as if I had it together, but the reality was I was a milli-second away from falling apart for everyone to see.

At the stroke of 10 pm, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I knew that I was speaking for more than just myself which pushed me beyond my very palpable fear. I remembered those two little girls pictured above and recognized the duty I have as their mother and as a woman to show them that nothing should prevent them from being fully seen, appreciated and heard in this world.

I want my daughters to know that raising your voice when others find it easier to be quiet takes courage. I am showing them through my own actions that speaking the truth in a time when it is preferential to lie takes strength. In the end, I hope they will see that business should not only be profitable, but socially responsible.

An hour and nine minutes later, I felt lighter and proud that I delivered on my promise. My viewers kept up their end of the bargain as they listened without starting any arguments, fights etc. All of this proving that we can have civil discussions around race issues and politics, if we first are willing to listen more than we speak. It also illustrated that we all can speak up without it being disastrous for our reputations and businesses.

As a friend of mine shared, you can’t go wrong when your words are from your heart and they are delivered with poise and professionalism.

In case you missed the show live, I am making sure to share it with my readers here. Thank you to those of you who have reached out to share your feedback on the show. It really makes me feel good to know, I made a difference by using my voice and platform.

Sending hugs to you all, because we all need it!

~Janine

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