08 Aug The Rolling Thunder of SILENCE
I don’t talk politics in the workplace. It’s a volatile subject – probably never more so than now.
But I can’t help reflecting on some insights culled from my business experience and their application to the rest of my world.
You see, my wife and I enjoyed a rare opportunity the other evening.
We got a chance to “socially distance” a gathering with some old friends. Appropriate precautions were taken as regards Personal Protection Equipment.
It was nice – and much needed – PPEs notwithstanding.
On the drive over Nancy and I discussed ground rules – but not in the context of the virus. No, ours spoke to another epidemic – one that I fear may end up rivaling even the ravages of COVID if that is indeed possible.
We talked about the dangers of another highly contagious affliction – one that appears to be poisoning a lot of people these days.
Opinion – or the risk of offering one anyway. And the harsh sound of silence that has begun to infiltrate even close friends’ conversations.
Opinion on politics – government – policy – society in general – and leaders.
Taboo. Not to even be mentioned. No reference to any personal views of any sort. And for heaven’s sake – do not broach November 3rd. That would be like throwing a canister of gasoline into a fireplace right after you nailed all the doors shut.
Talk the weather – discuss the latest Netflix series you’ve been gorging yourself on – family is OK too.
But do NOT offer others your perspective on what’s going on with our country – or across the globe.
You’ll offend – or you’ll make yourself look like an idiot – or someone will get mad. (Or in my case – all three.)
We have a wide spectrum of friends that run the gamut as regards political affiliations and world views. It’s pretty clear that most of them have decided they can’t talk about either – unless everyone in the group thinks exactly like they do. (And I, for one, would rather sit home alone than invest my days with people who can’t expand how I look at the world.)
So instead, we each carefully pre-brief any social situation that might create the risk of offending someone.
Run silent – run deep.
It’s the type of silence I’ve seen and experienced before in industry – especially when things go sour. Suddenly otherwise well intentioned employees decide the environment is no longer conducive to discourse. Don’t fight against the riptide – let the waves carry you.
Shut up and do your job. Get along.
Which is why the situation in a lot of companies never gets better – and sour devolves into decay.
Too many people who should be heard decide that they can’t be heard – and too many people who should occasionally shut and listen – don’t.
Or in the current social construct, as one of our friends puts it – “I’ve decided that my friendship is more important than my beliefs – so I just say nothing at all.”
Which begs the question – how did it come to this?
Many years ago, when I was conducting training programs for one of our legacy companies, we taught an aspect of leadership that I’ve tried to carry with me – and occasionally actually put into action.
The basis for its principles – when someone says something that you automatically want to disagree with, reject, or ignore — first, clarify and confirm your understanding.
It’s amazing how powerful this concept is – and I believe it’s primarily because it forces you to listen, even if it seems counter-intuitive. It also does something else – it conveys to the other party, “You are being heard.”
It’s a tough skill to master – especially when you KNOW that only YOU have the franchise on truth.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of us who occasionally believe we are sole proprietors of wisdom today – to include yours truly.
It’s narcissism at its most pronounced – and we are adding to its insipid effect by consciously shutting down rather than pursuing healthy dialogue.
I’ve learned a few things from my decades in the business world.
One of them is that silence isn’t golden – it’s a colorless, odorless virus that grows stronger if we allow it to take root.
So, I’ve made a decision of sorts. It’s one that’s served me well over the years – one that I challenge my various clients to consider every day in their organizational lives.
Transparency beats opacity.
If I’m going to Walk that Talk in my personal life – here are five things I CAN control in a world that seems out of control:
- I’m going to demonstrate the courage to encourage others to share their views – and why they have them.
- I’m going to listen for content as regards those opinions – and not as an opportunity to pounce.
- I’m going to seek to understand .
- I’m going to validate why I hold the opinions that I have – and challenge myself to consider why someone might take a different position. And I am going to demand that same level of accountability from others – to include those who agree and those who disagree with me.
- And finally, I’m going to resolve that not every volatile position demands absolute agreement to move forward – no winner versus loser mentality. Our country was founded on the genius of compromise.
I’m guessing compromise will work for me too.
The national debate that crosses our television screens every day has, in some convoluted way, created a rift that reaches into our homes – even into families.
We won’t mend that divide if we can’t talk about why it’s there – if we can’t find some common ground on which to build.
It was the Greek philosopher Socrates who said, “The only thing I know for certain…is that I know nothing at all…for certain.”
Neither do I…neither do you.
Maybe it’s time to shuck the PPEs that are clouding common sense and common decency.
Can we talk about it?