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HR Solutions

Problem Managers who

Don’t Talk


During a recruiting interview the manager who does all the talking causes a problem. At a meeting the executive who monopolizes the “dialogue” almost always causes a problem.  When sitting down for the annual performance evaluation, the manager whose voice can be heard during 90% of the time spent with the subordinate is causing a problem as well.

The thread running through these examples is the absence of active listening.  A manager who fails to throw his mouth into neutral and let others express their ideas and concerns is not managing well.

But as vital as listening skills are to good communications, they are no more important in managing an organization than speaking up.  Managers at your organization who keep their own counsel and say nothing set a tone of restraint in their departments, creating an atmosphere of close-mouthed working.  While this may have been sufficient in decades past, many of today’s employers embrace innovation and risk-taking more, and hard and fast planning and inflexible rules less.  This is the message of  “The Silent May Have Something to Say,” an article that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times business section (November 5, 2006, Business Section, p. 5).

“Managers who do not seem interested in communicating can also make employees reluctant to speak out about their own concerns, on anything from office atmospherics to career goals…Some employees are so ambivalent about speaking out to begin with that they can shut down completely if they perceive their boss to be uninterested in communication - - even if that perception is a holdover from a previous boss or an outgrowth of a single long-ago incident,” the Times observed.  “People who they cannot or should not speak their mind at work often become less engaged in their work.  That in turn means they are less inclined to give their all to their jobs, and increases the odds that they will leave if another opportunity comes along. 

The article highlighted examples of large companies that have sought recently to undertake some substantial measures to make sure everyone can have their say:  IBM in 2003 held a “ValuesJam” on its intranet network, and about 50,000 employees logged on over 72 hours time to chat about the “company’s core values and how they were and were not lived day to day.”

Of course what works for IBM is not necessarily what might work for other employers, but encouraging openness from the top should entail a great deal more that proclaiming an “open door policy” and affixing a suggestion box on the wall next to the time clock.  Three years ago Intuit rolled out regular skip level meetings between a manager and the subordinates of the manager’s reports.  After this and other reforms were put in place, Intuit’s turnover dropped from 24% to 12%.

Beware of the manager who prefers (or out of resignation or fear, opts for) silence.  He can spawn a department of quiet people whose ideas just might make you more productive.