Silence! It’s crashed planes, overlooked police misconduct and even brought down entire companies. It’s responsible for more accidents than miscommunication. Yet most of what we focus on in our policies is how we communicate. Communication has been touted as the single most important skill you can develop to help you achieve success in every aspect of your life. Read any business book and you will quickly see that the underlying theme is communication.
Unfortunately, most of what is written on communication focuses on the things that are communicated and how those items are communicated. Yet, what we really need to be focusing on is “what is not being said.” The silence. It’s the number one killer of risk management programs.
Silence is consent
“Don’t tell Jim”, “Let’s not report that”, “I didn’t see anything, did you? wink wink” – these are all forms of silence that ultimately wreak havoc on organizations. Silence says “yes” I agree. It says we are okay with that. Silence maintains the status quo and allows problems, challenges and good ideas to fly under the radar. Silence masks issues.
We have all heard the phrase “if we are comfortable in silence, then we have a great relationship.” That may be true of a healthy pause or meditative break, but real silence is a relationship ticking timebomb. This type of silence, the kind that holds us back from expressing our thoughts, percolates and boils over into resentment, anger or worse yet, apathy. And when that happens we have lost most if not all hope in moving our programs, relationships and organization forward in a positive manner. Silence obstructs the path to resolution.
There are many reasons for silence
In his article “Safety from the emotional side“, Irving Jacob discusses isolation and not being able speak out when needed. Irving touches on the fact that most of our policies look at the physical side of the house and often ignore the emotional side of our policies and how that motivates or demotivates our employees. There are many reasons that we choose silence over communication: stereotypes; biases; truly trying to understand; having nothing to add to the conversation; controlling the situation; hiding information; and good old fashion fear.
As risk managers, we must dig deep to find the root cause of silence among our peers, employees and superiors not to mention among ourselves. Once we understand the reason our co-workers are silent we are able to address the real issues for policy failures, accidents and injuries, and even why our organization may be failing in other areas.
Weeding out silence
The next time you are writing a policy, keep silence in mind. Ask yourself, does the policy encourage our employees to hide what they are really thinking? Does it encourage them to overlook reporting requirements because they are too burdensome? Is there too much hassle in the policy? You must also ask yourself how about how supervisors interact with their employees – do they create fear and uncertainly? If so, it is time to implement communication training or should I say, anti-silence training?