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Organizational Silence. Employees know the truth about certain issues and problems facing the organization yet they do not dare to speak the truth to their superiors.

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organizational silence
Organizational Silence
  • Employees know the truth about certain issues and problems facing the organization yet they do not dare to speak the truth to their superiors.
  • Industry Week study found that only 29% of first-level supervisors thought that their organization encouraged employees to express opinions openly.
  • Pluralistic organizations: ones that value and allow for the expression of multiple perspectives and opinions.
Implications of Silence (see figure 1)
    • Effect on learning and development
      • Blocking of negative feedback, information that suggests that current practices are not working
      • Errors tend to persist and magnify
      • Top management does not recognize lack of important information and may interpret silence as signaling consensus and success.
      • Even if directly asked, employees may be careful to filter out negative information.
origins of silence
Origins of Silence
  • Top managers’ fear of receiving negative feedback
    • Ignore the message
    • Dismiss it as inaccurate
    • Attack the credibility of the source
    • When negative feedback comes from below rather than from above it is seen as less accurate and legitimate and as more threatening to one’s power and credibility.
origins of silence1
Origins of silence
  • Set of unstated beliefs that managers hold about employees and about the nature of management
    • Employees are self-interested and untrustworthy (transaction economics)
    • Top management, not employees, always knows best about issues of organizational importance.
    • Unity, agreement, and consensus are signs of organizational health, while disagreement and dissent should be avoided.
the self fulfilling prophecy
The self-fulfilling prophecy
  • If managers believe that employees are self-interested and untrustworthy, they are likely to act in ways that discourage upward communication.
  • Well meaning employees, who feel shut out of the decision making process and unable to express their views, may respond by becoming less committed to the organization and less trusting. Managers’ pessimistic beliefs thereby become reality.
incubating silence
Incubating silence
  • Stable top management team
  • Dissimilarity of the demographic profile of the TMT in comparison to employees
  • Cultural background of the TMT (belief in respect for authority and hierarchy)
  • Tall or hierarchical organizational structures
  • Strategic emphasis on control: low-cost strategies or highly competitive environments.
breaking the silence
Breaking the silence
  • Managers must work hard to counteract the natural human tendency to avoid negative feedback.
  • Don’t shoot the messenger
  • Build an open and trusting climate
  • Bring in new top managers that have proven records of operating in the open
  • Reward employees that come forward with sensitive or risky information (courageous followers).
  • Create formal mechanisms in which employees can speak up anonymously if they wish to.