Have you ever been in a meeting where the topic of conversation turned controversial? It seems as though most people agree with one viewpoint, while only a few have voiced a contradictory opinion, if they’ve said anything at all. These people are keeping silent not because they do not believe in their own point of view, but because they fear the stigma of social rejection. This is known as the “Spiral of Silence.”
Most people, especially if they are in the minority, are reluctant to voice their opinions or concerns for just this reason. Unfortunately, they’re also the ones that are most likely to go home feeling disgruntled, unappreciated, and unheard.
So how do you, as a manager, remedy this type of situation or prevent the spiral from occurring? Taking a leadership role in meetings where this may happen is essential. You’ll be able to guide the meeting back on track, or encourage the opinions of those who don’t seem to have much to say. If all else fails, encourage your employees to participate in anonymous surveys when important decisions need to be made. They may be more willing to put their ideas in writing if they can do so anonymously.
The ability to recognise the Spiral of Silence and stop it from occurring is an incredible communication skill. Silence in the workplace can be detrimental, so keep your ears open and make sure no one feels bullied, intentionally or not, into keeping quiet.
Originally published: 23 September, 2008
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