In 1964, Paul Simon wrote The Sound of Silence. In 2015, Disturbed created a cover of The Sound of Silence for a new audience. Although the lyrics remain the same, the images they conjure vary, even though some correlation remains. The sound of silence can become a complete culture.
I once worked with a company with its own culture of silence. These lyrics from the Sound of Silence especially applied to this company:
…in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking.
People hearing without listening.
People writing songs that voices never share.
No-one dare disturb the sound of silence.
The songs written and never shared included ideas to improve efficiency, productivity, maintain quality and consistency, and improve morale. People stopped sharing. The culture demonstrated itself in these ways:
- Meetings where no-one listened
- Feedback ignored, dismissed, or rebutted
- People who had been laid off became taboo subjects – management never mentioned them and people who loved them and appreciated their work felt ostracized for mentioning them
- People in management not permitted to talk to people who had been let go
- People with wonderful ideas stopped sharing
- Result: culture of fear, culture of silence
I wanted to impress upon them the truth of these lyrics:
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you.
Take my arms that I might reach you.
The biggest challenge in this organization was the lack of desire for true change. The people who could implement true and effective changes gave it lip-service, but refused to give much consideration to the culture.
Some of my words were heard before my time with them ended, however, and a few things were beginning to change.
- Instead of a phone call at the end of the work day dismissing people, individuals being let go were given two weeks’ notice
- People who were let go received some public praise for their efforts
- Change requests from people “on the front line” were heard and implemented more quickly – at least in one or two areas
Instead of screams echoing in a culture of silence, how can you fight any culture of silence in which you find yourself? Is your home a culture of silence? Is your workplace a culture of silence? Is your neighborhood a culture of silence? How can you change that? In my case, I have worked hard to share the things that I don’t want to share. I share with my kids the things that embarrass me about my behavior and things I want to change. I share with my clients the things they don’t want to hear, but that will help them. I also share as many positives as possible. A culture solely of criticism or embarrassment also creates a culture of silence where people still are afraid to share fearing they may only show negatives. Create a culture where mistakes are allowed, feedback is welcomed, changes are made, and recognition is plentiful. Together, let’s fight our cultures of silence.
Let me help you evaluate your organization’s culture and work with you to change it to your organization’s ideal culture. Call me at 509-730-5506 or e-mail me at catherine@profitablealignment to get started.