4 myths managers believe

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a blog post about Larry and his staff who wanted to wear flip-flops to work. It was the tale of a manager who forgot to listen to his people. But many colleagues have since commented on the reluctance of some employees to speak up. I am here to tell you that you have the ability to stop the silence.You may pride yourself on an open-door policy and believe you are hearing everything. In fact, our character Larry in the flip-flop disaster did hear the request from his team, but he did not take action. In the latest phase of a decade’s worth of research at Cornell University, they explored how and when employees hold back. The most common reason for withholding input is a sense of futility.

The project, led by assistant professor, James Detert, uncovered four common myths managers believe about the flow of ideas and information from the rank and file.

Myth 1

Women and nonprofessional employees withhold more information than men and professional staffers because they are more concerned about consequences or more likely to see speaking up as futile.

There are no statistically significant differences between workers of different genders, education levels, or income levels in the likelihood of holding back because of fear or assumptions of futility.

Myth 2

If my employees are talking openly to me, they’re not holding back.

Fully 42% of respondents report periodically speaking up but also withholding information when they feel they have nothing to gain—or something to lose—by sharing what’s on their minds.

Myth 3

If employees aren’t speaking up, it’s because they don’t feel safe doing so, despite all my efforts.

More than 25% say they withhold feedback on routine problems and opportunities for improvement to avoid wasting their time, not because they fear consequences.

Myth 4

The only issues employees are scared to raise involve serious allegations about illegal or unethical activities.

About 20% say a fear of consequences has led them to withhold suggestions for addressing ordinary problems and making improvements. Such silence on day-to-day issues keeps managers from getting the information they need to prevent bigger problems—performance and otherwise—down the road.

Removing these myths from the management excuse list will further allow leaders to ask the tough questions, listen, and take action.

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