Volume 12, Number 3
Why Your Team Won’t Tell You
Can you afford to
miss out on your people's best thinking? Or their full commitment?
Your goals are in jeopardy when people hold back their contrary
opinions, off-beat ideas, or disagreements with you as too risky
risky?" you may ask. "Why, I encourage openness,"
you likely protest. "And I certainly don't intimidate people,
or punish them for disagreeing with me. Why would they hold
Why indeed? Why
would anyone reporting to a reasonable and well-meaning manager
hold back from saying the truth?
people hold back
For many people,
speaking up to the boss is hard simply because he or she is
the boss. Some people are naturally cautious, or perhaps have been
burned in the past. Others may be culturally programmed to show
deference to the boss and to avoid any possibility of criticism.
And there is always the possibility that you, the boss, really
will hold something against people who displease you, or speak
uncomfortable truths. From the employee's point of view, why take
At a deeper
level, we should also consider that some might not have completed
the last few steps of the developmental journey from child to
fully autonomous adult. As a result, they may unconsciously
respond to bosses in the same way they responded to their parents
or other authorities when they were children—seeking to please
them, and to avoid their displeasure.
Finally, there is
the possibility that you, the boss, inadvertently give out signals
that it's not okay to disagree. This can happen in many ways,
ranging from body language and facial expressions that convey
criticism, to a failure to encourage the expression of
interviewed the staff of a plant general manager who spoke of the
GM's stated interest in creating a participatory atmosphere at
team meetings. They described how Harry (not his real name) would
stand at the flip chart and ask for their ideas. But as one of
them went on to say, "After a while we noticed that he'd
write down the ideas he agreed with, and pretty much ignore the
rest. Eventually, we stopped giving him our ideas."
your people to speak up
Let's assume you
want to make the most of your staff's ideas and creativity. What
can you do to encourage people to speak up? Here are several
suggestions into action is not easy. It takes a concerted effort
to do things differently. But the payoffs are well worth it—a
more open team atmosphere, more innovation, and higher quality