Leaders: Saying nothing can be a COST

silenceLast week, a girl friend visiting from out of town, posed this question “Jas when is it appropriate to say things as they are versus not saying anything for the sake of maintaining the relationship?”  As you can imagine, this led to an engaging conversation on what the context of the question was including the nature of the issue, how long the issue had existed, what she was feeling and what she really needed from her partner.   My friend was obviously grappling with some relationship issues as we do from time to time. However, it got me reflecting on how similar dynamics show up in organizational life with our clients, colleagues, managers, leaders and or suppliers?

Let us take our colleagues and bosses. How free do we feel to openly communicate our thoughts and feelings with them?  How often do we not share with a team member that their annoying and seemingly disrespectful behaviours perhaps borne of poor EQ skills are getting in the way of a potentially good working relationship?

My experience is that we cannot avoid and gloss over issues and our rumbling feelings for too long.  Sooner or later things do catch up and bubble over at inopportune moments and in inappropriate ways.   When this happens, it is generally not a good look and typically does more harm than good.

The other down side of not being able to discuss and share our concerns is that it does not call for a good, healthy and robust team and or relationship where differences can be voiced, feelings can be heard and decisions still made for the greater good. In fact, what is “present” but not spoken becomes the “pink elephant” which is very much present but everyone ignores and carries on regardless.

On the face of it, it appears that people are working towards the organizational goals and objectives but seriously, what will be stampeding your progress will be the unspoken shadow side. Not dissimilar to the subtle powers of the unconscious mind.

Taking the risk and sharing or giving feedback to another is a challenge most people do not relish.  Managers would rather focus on operational aspects of the business than have to deal with the difficult domain of having to contend with “all the other stuff to do with feelings and emotions – “yikes!” But for managers and leaders this is part of the job. What is negative and not dealt with grows and becomes more toxic and pervasive with time. However, if we can set up the right context and culture for team members to be able to do this easily and routinely then everyone wins.

As a manager and leader, a good first step is to do some self-reflection and identify what your own fears/self-talk might be with regards to giving feedback. Is it time? Trying to please everybody?  Don’t know how? Waiting for the performance review? Organizational politics?    A relationship or team is as good as the degree of openness, trust and flexibility present.  Yes – these things take time to build but if we leave the issues unaddressed and get into  “conflict avoidant” mode than everyone loses. Moving beyond the initial discomfort and taking the appropriate action ultimately benefits the entire team. Feedback given sensitively and appropriately can be the ultimate gift – you care enough to tell it like it is.

Jasbindar Singh is an experienced business psychologist and leadership coach who is passionate about creating workplace excellence. She speaks on this topic along with employee engagement, leadership and “being in our groove”. She is also the award winning author of “Get your Groove Back.”


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