Are you surrounded by silence? Then Please, Listen Up

Written by
Ryan McGrory
August 4, 2022

If you don’t have a culture of listening, then you might have a dictatorship.

Sounds dramatic (maybe it is) but if your leadership team doesn't listen … then you’ll eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.

Often, this is the unintentional consequences of a poor approach to employee listening - and, it’s only when we hear the silence do we realise there’s a problem.

But there are other earlier signs. Low response rates on a survey, maybe? Perhaps people have stopped challenging or providing ideas. Or, there’s low uptake in company initiatives - or worse, noticeable drops in performance or quality.

I spoke to Russell Robinson (founder of Amplified Research) on the exsona podcast Let’s Talk About EX’ and we discussed the impacts of employee voice and silence on company culture.

“What you find is that when employees feel that their ideas, thoughts and concerns can be heard, treated fairly and maybe acted on - it impacts their engagement and has a positive impact on the workforce,” he said.

“When employees don’t feel comfortable expressing those ideas, thoughts and concerns, they choose to be silent … and silence can have an adverse impact on organisations and on employees.”

There are many potential factors that lead to ‘employee silence’. Three of the most common reasons are where employees feel:

  1. Hopeless - due to leadership’s failure to address problems effectively or fairly.
  2. Overwhelmed -  where workload is too high and tasks (and, often structures) are unclear.
  3. Fearful - as there is unhealthy and negative feedback culture; where it’s unsafe to speak-up.

“When we ask people about the worst jobs they ever had, they tell us it’s when they didn’t feel valued or heard, and they felt fearful, overwhelmed, useless.”

Russell is a real expert on employee engagement, and an adjunct professor of Executive Leadership at American University in Washington DC, USA.

Employee voice and silence is a topic he explores regularly with leaders, and shares some tips for helping leaders improve their listening approach.

“It really goes back to how you build trust,” he says.

“And first, you have to assess where you are in regards to your culture: do you have a culture where voice is prevalent or where silence is prevalent?”

To hear more from Russell - and for some tips on creating a culture of trust, listen to the full podcast episode here!

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