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See something? Say something. Do you know how much silence is costing you?

Could the scandals of Enron and WorldCom have been avoided? What about the “Dieselgate” involving the car manufacturing industry or the tragic Germanwings flight?

Sadly, before each of these disasters, a number of people had noticed what amounted to warning signs and yet said nothing. Such patterns of costly and even deadly silence are unfortunately common in many public, private and not-for-profit organizations across the world.

You may believe that you are immune and that it only happens to others, but research shows that we all do have to worry about silence in our work or private environments, as it kills our bottom-line and our relationships.

A recent survey across hospitals (Source: VitalSmarts – the silent treatment in association with AORN and AACN associations) showed that more than 80% of their employees have been in a position to notice signs of professional misconduct or a lack of respect for elementary rules of hygiene but that only around 22% of them dare to speak up. In Switzerland, a 2017 research indicates that 70’000 patients have suffered nosocomial infections and that 2’000 died (Source: article from 24 Heures 6.7.2015).

Overall, across various environments it has been estimated that each difficult conversation not held, or feedback not given, costs an organization an average of 7’500 USD (Source: VitalSmarts – the cost of conflict avoidance); similar figures are found in Switzerland.

But then, Why do we bite our tongue? 1 in 3 say that the culture in which they operate is not really promoting the expression of (tough) feedback.

Can we do something about it? Indeed, organizations and institutions are complex ecosystems with multiple stakeholders and a constant operational pressure for results, yet we suggest that it is possible to start, where you have control:

  • Create a culture of two-way, open and transparent communication

  • Train your people on how to initiate and handle high-stake and emotionally charged conversations

  • Train your leadership, and in particular your line managers and middle-management, on how to (really) encourage their direct reports to speak up.

  • Coach line managers until good people management behaviors become a second nature

  • Lead by example and be a role model to create alignment and reinforce the message

  • Seek to implement sustainable top-down and bottom-up good leadership practices and follow up to ensure they become habits

Ask yourself what the cost of silence is vs. the risk of letting people speak up.

Remember: "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."

What do you think? Contact us.

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