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3 Practices to End your Silence

This meeting shows the tendency to remain silent rather than expressing a difference that exists both in individual relationships and in groups, where we fear a loss of status or even expulsion if we differ from the rest.


Similarly, we have seen in many meetings:

  • How the pressure for unanimity can prevent employees of roughly equal grade and status-even top managers-from exploring their differences.
  • More familiar to many is the pressure to keep silent that’s created by differences in rank.
  • Many people in organizations do what we believe other group members want us to do.
  • We say what we think other people want us to say.


3 Practices to End your Silence 1. Recognize your power
We all have the power to express ourselves and to encourage others to speak freely, whether they’re subordinates, peers, or even bosses. We need to bring differences out into the open so that they can be explored. When one person finds the courage to take a step and presents new information in a way that the other person can absorb, the two are likely to join in a process of mutual exploration of the differences that separate them
2. Act deviantly
We must act deviantly-for example, by choosing to ask tough questions at a company meeting where employees normally just accept the decisions of top management. Although deviance often carries negative connotations, it is not synonymous with dysfunctionality. Deviance is, at heart, a creative act-a way of searching out and inventing
new approaches to doing things.
3. Build a coalition
Reaching out to others can give us the strength to break the hold of silence. Not only is it easier to speak up when we know we’re not alone, but a coalition also carries more legitimacy and resources. Even though it may feel threatening to approach people to join forces with you, it is surprising how often you may find that many people feel the same way you do.
MIT Case:
Nancy Hopkins, a scientist at MIT Hopkins repeatedly found herself having to fight harder than her male colleagues for resources like lab space. After dealing with the same issues for years, she drafted a letter to the MIT administration. Before sending it, however, she showed it to a female colleague whom she regarded as politically savvy. To Hopkins’s surprise, the other woman wanted to add her signature to the letter; the same type of things had happened to her, too. In the end, 14 of the 15 women Hopkins approached decided to sign as well. As a result, a committee was formed, and a pattern of discrimination was uncovered and addressed.

All too often, behind failed products, broken processes, and mistaken decisions are people who chose to hold their tongues rather than to speak up. Breaking the silence can bring an outpouring of fresh ideas from all levels of an organization-ideas that might just raise the organization’s performance to a whole new level.
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