To say or not to say, that is the question….
How much do you actually share with people you work with?
We’ve all had the experience of asking someone ‘how are you” and they say “fine” and to ourselves we think, “yeah, right.” Why do we do that — on either side? Why do we lie and say we’re OK when we’re not, and why do we not call someone on it when they say they’re fine and we know it’s a lie?
I can think of a number of reasons:
- We don’t want to know because it’s messy.
- We don’t want to know because then we have to deal with it.
- It takes vulnerability.
- We care about other things more.
- We believe it to be inappropriate for the workplace.
I suggest that there’s something more important than any of these concerns:
the dynamic of the workplace and the culture we create.
That person you pass in the hallway who doesn’t share what’s really going on with them is the same person you’re counting on to give you feedback on your project, or tell you what you need to do to improve your job performance, or partner on an upcoming report. By not sharing authentically in one place, we set up a culture that lacks openness, authenticity and communication.
No one wants to work with someone who doesn’t say the truth.
Generally, people are likely well-intentioned. They withhold information or emotion or opinion because they believe there’s something more important: decorum, politics, appropriateness, their own projects. All that is fine, it’s just that lack of candor and authenticity is insidious — it grows easily.
As coaches working with an organization, we generally find that there are a number of conversations going on in the background in a workplace that are undistinguished, but that have a huge impact on the productivity, culture and effectiveness of a workforce. Things like “the CEO is the original owner’s son but he isn’t really qualified” or “as long as you keep your head down and don’t ruffle any feathers, your job is safe” or “never upset her in a meeting — she’ll make your life miserable”. The fact that these conversations (though perhaps never spoken out loud) are going on, impacts the work tremendously: can you imagine being willing to say “the emperor has no clothes” in a culture that tells you to simply keep you head down? No, of course not…. but that may be the very thing that would save an initiative, or a company.
My invitation for you is to look at the places where you (yes, even you!) are not saying what there is to say in your organization. You may not be willing or able to identify the huge unspoken conversations of the company — but you could just start with what’s on your desk: where are you not saying what there is to say? Will you take on one of those conversations this week? Start small — it could just be reminding someone of the agreed-to formatting of a memo…
Then when you’re ready for your company to take on the larger conversations that involve multiple people, departments, or the organization itself — call us! From the outside, we can not only better distinguish what’s not being said — but we can say it!