Broadspring Consulting

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The Dangers Of A Silent No

Leaders Speak By Words And Actions

There is always a message. Leaders cannot be like the three “wise” monkeys merely sitting and saying nothing and doing nothing, pretending it doesn’t exist.

All leaders are looked to by staff in their team and in other teams for guidance.
Guidance in the form of the words we use, the actions we take (or do not take) and the things that we do (or do not do). Role modelling in action.

And it is dangerous when staff model and take guidance from the silent no. A silent no occurs when something inappropriate happens and it is not challenged. Defining inappropriate can vary according to your company code of conduct and values or it can be as simple as what community standards of the day apply.

The silent no applies to the things that are said and done that are ignored. There is a saying that the behaviours you walk past become the standards you live with.

Culture is Created by Deeds not just words

Culture is made up of patterns of behaviours that are encouraged, or not discouraged, over a period of time. Failing to say no to something inappropriate is interpreted as a tacit or silent approval. The silent no is interpreted as a silent yes.

That is dangerous. It is a standard set by default. Something that gains a foothold (or a stronghold) merely by it not being challenged. And the longer it is allowed to continue without being challenged the harder it becomes to address because it not only has become a habit or entrenched staff will also expect an explanation of why it went unchallenged for so long.

What Can You Do As A Leader?

Here are the main things you must do as a leader

  • Be aware of the things going on around you and be conscious of your role as a setter of standards
  • Be willing and able to speak out early. Have the words to be able to gently yet firmly correct inappropriate behaviour before it escalates.
  • Get a coach if you need support or guidance on how to do this. I’m happy to speak with you if you need support.
  • Be clear on the standards that you seek. Discuss those standards and the behaviours that are associated with them, as well as the behaviours that would contradict or undermine them. Have those discussions with your peers and your staff.
  • Be willing to have robust conversations to help staff understand those standards.
  • Be willing to not hire or promote someone if they do not meet those standards. Be willing to take corrective, including disciplinary, action.