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Speak up or face the consequences

Most people believe that they will speak up when something negative happens, but in reality few actually do. Helene Vermaak, Director at organisational culture experts The Human Edge says that if employees do not speak up when they are frustrated, or see something that isn’t appropriate happening, there can be real consequences for the organisation.

“Instead of speaking up most employees engage in resource draining behaviour,” says Vermaak. This behaviour may include, complaining to others, doing extra or unnecessary work, ruminating over the problem or becoming angry.

“But a culture of silence can be changed, if leaders become teachers and models of outspokenness,” says Vermaak. Employees need to feel safe and competent in their environment before they will be able to speak up. When leaders engage in dialogue, people acquire the skills to present their concerns and the confidence to share their views. “The organisation’s environment becomes conducive to welcoming views, opinions and thoughts,” says Vermaak.

Vermaak provides four key tactics for transforming a culture of silence into a culture of dialogue.

• Reverse your thinking – those who are best at having crucial conversations don’t think first about the risks of speaking up. They think first about the risks of not speaking up. This simple reversal of risk assessment makes them far more likely to speak up.
• Change your emotions – these conversations often go badly because we are irritated, angry, or disgusted. Our counterparts react to these emotions. Try to see others as reasonable, rational, and decent human beings – a practice that softens strong emotions and ensures you come across more agreeably.
• Make others feel safe – we become defensive when we feel unsafe. When others feel respected and trust your motives, they feel safe, let their guard down, and begin to listen – even if the topic is unpleasant.
• Invite dialogue – create an environment of safety, express your concerns and then invite dialogue. Encourage the other person to disagree with you. Those who are best at crucial conversations don’t just come to make their point; they come to learn.

“Research has shown that organisations who have cultures that are open to dialogue have more engaged and happier employees and are able to see the results in the bottom-line – the difference between success and failure,” concludes Vermaak.


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