breaking corporate silenceBy Dr. Rob Bogosian and Christine Mockler Casper

This little book should be on every leader’s desk—not stuck under a pile of papers, but sitting on top, ready to be consulted every day. It’s well-written, filled with practical suggestions you can implement right away, and thought-provoking.

Corporate voice boils down to whether employees hold back important work-related information that could inform decisions and problem resolutions, or whether they experience the safety, confidence, and trust that encourages them to contribute their fullest. Employees in a culture of silence may perform their jobs, but they will do so as a matter of obedience or resignation. They don’t go out of their way to give their best efforts or to solve problems, even if they have good ideas, mainly because they don’t think leaders will listen to them or value them.

Employees in a culture of voice, on the other hand, contribute their fullest, resulting in open, honest, and healthy communication and innovative problem solving. They are willing to expand their efforts to meet organizations’ goals and advance business objectives beyond fulfilling the basic requirements of their jobs.

Leaders’ behaviors, values, and beliefs support either a culture of voice or a culture of silence. High Influence Leaders are those who support a culture of voice. Changing from a culture of silence to a culture of voice requires a great deal of self-reflection, learning, feedback, and experimentation on the part of leaders. The authors walk you through how to determine which culture your leadership supports and how to move toward a culture of voice.

Self-assessment questions to answer include:

  1. What percentage of meetings have you attended in the last one or two months where agreement was reached quicker than the time you thought it would require? (If you answered more than 50% to this question, it suggests that not all viewpoints were heard or solicited.)
  2. How many employees, in the last month, presented a solution to a problem when you didn’t have a solution to offer? (If you answer “zero” to this question, it may indicate a need to actively solicit more views and opinions from others.)
  3. In how many staff meetings within the last six months did you get the “bovine stare”—a blank look—from the group when you asked people to give you their opinions? (If your answer is greater than 1, it may indicate a dependence on your viewpoint, your decision making, and employee disengagement. Don’t assume that silence means agreement—it rarely does.)

The book goes on to include many more self-assessment questions, practices that encourage voice, and suggestions for what to change and how to track the results.

One thing that was particularly interesting was the discussion of levels of communication. I’ve attended and taught numerous communication workshops, and I’ve never seen these levels. They are:

Level 1. Superficial (polite, idle chat about the weather, sports, and other safe topics. This is advantageous with new acquaintances or if you want to play it safe, and can contribute to social capital.)

Level 2. Information based (the sharing of facts. If communication stops here, opportunities for voice decrease.)

Level 3. Thought-based (when people open up and share ideas, opinions, and perspectives. If people are rebuffed here, they will go back to a superficial or fact level, which is often a symptom of a culture of silence.)

Level 4. Value-based—emotional (when people share their feelings and gut instincts about a problem or opportunity. This level takes trust and is a foundation level for building a culture of voice.)

Another thing I particularly liked was the Engagement Check List. Here are a few on the list:  believed in me and demonstrated that belief; had my best interests in mind; clearly explained what was expected; articulated a focused and compelling vision; listened to my suggestions; and honored their commitment. These are similar to items on the Booth Company’s surveys, which could provide valuable feedback to leaders, whether they are in a culture of voice or a culture of silence.

Reviewers on Amazon say things like “I wish it had been included in my MBA program,” and “Breaking Corporate Silence is as timely as it is essential to today’s business environment.” I wholeheartedly agree.