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Silence As Organizational Communication

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on 1 August 2014

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Transcript of Silence As Organizational Communication

Relevance to the fields of organizational leadership and education and
application/implications for our professional practice
Organizational Silence:
Silence Does Not Equal Consent

Problem of Practice:
Why do people remain silent in organizations?
What does the silence communicate?
What impact does silence have on organizations?
Dissertation Critique - Organizational Communication

Engaging Organizational Voice: A Phenomenological Study of Employees’ Lived Experiences of Silence in Work Group Settings

by Robert Bogosian
January 2012

In partial fulfillment of the requirements of EDU7276 Organizational Communication: Institutional and Global Perspectives

Instructor: Dr. Atira Charles

Brought to you by Team 2:
Alison Buckley, Rita Cinelli, Regina Cousar
July 26, 2014
Research design, theoretical framework, literature review, methods, findings and implications for practice
Research Design
A phenomenological study to consider how employees experience silence at the individual level both emotionally and cognitively

Examines the lived experiences of employees who remained silent when they could have voiced concerns on work-related issues.

Assumptions, Merits, and Limitations of the study
Phenomenological Study
Empirical approach
Semi-structured interviews
Limitations Noted by the Author
Phenomenological study - Limitations in breadth for feasibility and manageability
Focused on individual experiences only - may not be generalized to a large population of managers
The study relied on participants’ ability to recall the past experience and their recall could be subject to memory limitations
Lastly, study participants may have responded to questions with bias based on a desire to please the researcher
"Absence of sound or noise"
(Dictionary.com, 2013)
Study’s Significance
Limitations based on our review
Reference List:
Literature Review
High level of complexity in the literature
Leadership practices and styles
Focus on abusive leadership and leadership in groups
Group relationships
Communication flows
The body of literature on organizational silence is largely theoretical
the end
“I have nothing to say, I am saying it, and that is poetry”
(John Cage, cited in Dacey, 2004)

Employee Silence: “The withholding of any form of genuine expression about the individual’s behavioral, cognitive and/or affective evaluations of his or her organizational circumstances to persons who are perceived to be capable of effecting change or redress.” (Pinder & Harlos, 2001, p. 334).

Whenever voice is not encouraged, repressed, or deterred, for whatever reason, silence ensues, hindering organizational operation and often prosperity and viability.
Organizational silence impacts:
The negative feedback cycle, creating fertile soil for error creation and limiting capacity for “double looped” learning (Argyris, 1977a, 1978b 1991c); thus, remedial actions are not taken because needed voice is not heard.

An organization’s ability to transfer knowledge, impeding organizational learning (Bogosian & Stefanchin, 2013; Blackwell and Sadler-Smith, 2009).

These factors lead to:
1. Flawed critical analysis due to lack of minority perspectives
2. Inappropriate responses to diverse workforces, based on values, beliefs and characteristics

Resulting in:
Ineffective decision-making and change processes based on restricted information flow to leadership and management
Leadership may construe silence as agreement and success,
“no news is good news,”
thus a fictitious reality is constructed and acted upon ( Ashford et al., 2009;Tourish & Robson, 2006).

Viewed through a leadership lens, it becomes the task of management to develop the means to tap this precious reserve of competitive advantage, i.e.,
transformation of tacit into explicit knowledge
(Polanyi, 1966; Nonaka, 1994a; Nonaka, 2003b; Blackwell & Sadler-Smith, 2009) and leverage it.
Theoretical Framework
The following theoretical perspectives framed the study:
Human communication
Group dynamics
Organizational silence
Findings and Implications
Silence is a response to a perceived injustice
Silence is accompanied by a contraction of employee effort
Silence is a protective mechanism
Silence can be either “offensive” or “defensive”
Assumptions of the Dissertation
A major assumption - individual organizational members were willing to disclose their experience with silence.
Assumed they had the ability to reflect on their experience in rich, meaningful, and accurate ways.
Assumed that participants were truthful about their silence experiences.
Merits of this Research
Relevance to Organizational Communication
The author completed an extensive literature review, although much of the literature was not as current as one might hope for.

The author stated his positionality and his efforts to set it aside.

The author completed an analysis which illuminated the themes discovered during the research.

The author used multiple summary tables which were very approachable.

The author's work contributes to the limited experiential data set available on the topic.
Fourteen participants (15 interviews) drawn from an Executive MBA program and Linkedin.
Participants must be managers of managers
The author used an extremely emotional appeal to solicit participants (concerning his grandparents' experience with genocide). This appeal could have swayed the participants to overstate their observations.

The author's literature review contained very limited articles that were less than five years old.
An example of silence being utilized to communicate in the workplace
Project challenges and learning experienced by our team:

We have different personal schedules, are employed adult learners, and had to accommodate by use of email...a lot of email!

We had one member who had experience with the subject and introduced it to the team - this was an advantage since we immediately had interest in the topic based on organizational experiences.

We had to accept differences in opinion based on our understanding and experiences.

We learned that silence has huge implications as a communication process. Based on the research and our lived experiences, it may be much more significant to organizational culture than the spoken agreements.
Figure 1. A taxonomy of silence in organizational knowing and learning. Reprinted
from “The Silent and the Silenced in Organizational Knowing and Learning,” by D.
Blackman and E. Sadler-Smith, 2009, Management Learning Volume (40), p. 573.
Copyright [2009] by Sage Publications Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

Presentation Agenda
Summary of the dissertation
Assumptions, limitations and merits
Relevance to the field of organizational communication
Implications for current professional practice
Challenges and Learning

Withheld voice in an organizational context can negatively influence employee performance and morale, eliciting detrimental behaviors that impact organizational function, e.g., “quitting before leaving” (Burris et al., 2008); and MUM effect (Tesser et al., 2006).

Employee silence is closely linked to aggressive and/or abusive leadership behaviors (Tepper, 2000a; Tepper, 2007b; Detert & Burris, 2007; Detert & Edmondson, 2011).

Employee voice is key to knowledge creation and transfer, functioning as a host to innovation (Bososian & Stefanchin, 2013).

Leadership frequently perceives input as something to be surmounted, not constructive feedback (Tourish, 2005).

Leaders need to:
develop a
silence radar
in order to understand the phenomenon and recognize its presence in conjunction with a
plurality mental model
(Morrison & Milliken, 2000a, 2003b); and foster action learning,
dialogue producing events
that encourage an alignment of diverse ideas toward the goal of individual and collective
organizational learning
(Argyris, 1977a, 1978b 1991c; Morrison, 2014);
reach out to employees
re: workplace issues which also increases their feelings of worth (Tangirala & Ramanujam, 2012).
Irrespective of the profession, organizational commonalities exist relative to the silence phenomenon and its manifestation:

Replicated examples of silence behaviors, e.g., MUM effect, defensive silence, prosocial silence, “quitting before leaving”

Presentation of tipping behavior (silence breeding more silence) which facilitates norm of silence development (Kish-Gephart et al., 2009)

Leadership styles, e.g., authoritarian or autocratic, that foster climates of silence should be minimized

Application to practice:
Learning from our lived experiences and this research
Argyris, C. (1977). Double loop learning in organizations. Harvard Business Review 55 (5), 115-129.
Argyris, C. (1991). Teaching smart people how to learn. Harvard Business Review 55, 115-129.
Argyris, C., & Schon, D. (1978). Organizational learning. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Ashford, S., Sutcliffe, K., & Christianson, M. (2009). Speaking up and speaking out: the leadership dynamics of voice in organizations. In J. Greenberg, & M. (. Edwards, Sounding Off on Voice and Silence (pp. 175-2002). Bingley, UK: Emerald.
Blackman, D., & Sadler-Smith, E. (2009). The Silent and the Silenced in Organizational Knowing and Learning. Management Learning 40, 569-585.
Bogosian, R. (2012). Engaging organizational voice: A phenomenological study of employees' lived experiences of silence in work group settings (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest database (UMI3489788).
Bogosian, R., & Stefanchin, J. (2013). Silence is not always consent: Employee silence as a barrier to knowledge transfer. 2013 Organizational Learning, Knowledge, and Capabilities Conference (pp. 1-21). Washington DC: George Washington University.
Burris, E. R., Detert, J. R., & Romney, A. C. (2013). Speaking Up vs. Being Heard: The Disagreement Around and Outcomes of Employee Voice. Organization Science 24 (1), 22-38.
Dacey, J. (2014, July 07). The Beat Begins: America in the 1950s. Retrieved from http://www.honors.umd.edu/HONR269J/projects/dacey.html
Detert, J. R., & Burris, E. R. (2007). Leadership Behavior and Employee Voice: Is the Door Really Open? Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 50, No. 4, 869-884.
Detert, J., & Trevino, L. (2010). Speaking up to higher ups: How supervisors and skip-level leaders influence voice. Organizational Science 2 (1), 249-270.
Greenberg, J., & Edwards, M. (2009). Sounding off on Voice and Silence. In J. Greenberg, & M. (. Edwards, Voice and silence in organizations (pp. 275-293). Bingley, England: Emerald.
Kish-Gephart, J., Detert, J., Trevino, L., & Edmondson, A. (2009). Silenced by fear: the nature, sources, and consequences of fear at work. Research in Organizational Behavior 29, 163-193.
Liu, W., Zhu, R., & Yang, Y. (2010). I warn you because I like you: Voice behvior, employee identifications, and transformational leadership. The Leadership Quarterly 21, 189-202.
Morrison, E. (2014, January 02). Employee Voice and Silence. Retrieved from The Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior: orgpsych.annualreviews.org doi:101146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091328
Morrison, E., & Milliken, F. (n.d.). Organisational silence: a barrier to change and development in a pluralistic world. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 25, No. 4.
Nonaka, I. (1994). Dynamic Theory of Knowledge Creation. Organization Science 5 (1), 14-37.
Nonaka, I., & Toyama, R. (2003). The knowledge-creaating theory revisited: knowledge creation as a synthesizing process. Knowledge Management Research & Practice 1, 2-10.
Perlow, L. A., & Repenning, N. P. (2009). The dynamics of silencing conflict. Organizational Behavior 29, 195-223.
Polanyi, M. (1962). Tacit Knowing-"Its bearing on some problems of philosophy". Reviews of Modern Physics 34 (4), 601-616.
Polanyi, M. (1966). The Tacit Dimension. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Tangirala, S., & Ramanujam, R. (2012). Ask and You Shall Hear (But Not Always): Examining the Relationship Between Manager Consultatin and Employee Voice. Personnel Psychology 65, 251-282.
Tepper, B. (2000). Consequences of Abusive Supervision. Academy of Management Journal 43 (2), 178-190.
Tepper, B. J. (2007). Abusive Supervision in Work Organizations. Journal of Management, 261-289.
Tourish, D. (2005). Critical Upward Communication: Ten Commandments for Improving Strategy and Decisionmaking. Long Range Planning 38, 485-503.
Tourish, D., & Robson, P. (2006). Sensemaking and the Distortion of Critical Upward Communication in Organizations. Journal of Management Studies 43:4, 711-730.

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