Ah, the sound of silence. It can bring to mind the tranquility of a peaceful lake or the stillness of a mountaintop view. At other times, it’s a comfortable mantle that settles over our family as we contentedly read in the living room on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Emily Chang | The Spare Room | Holly meditative
Holly zens out

But in the workplace? Nothing signals that something is amiss like the sound of silence. Are people hunched over cubicles, working in quiet isolation? Do questions go unanswered, as eyes quickly avert to the floor?

A culture that is mired in silence is one that has been restrained from speaking up.

Perhaps it’s fear. Perhaps some have been shot down for speaking up, or the boss is known for having a fearsome temper. Perhaps we’ve realized that silence won’t get us fired, but anything else that catches attention might.

Or perhaps it’s apathy. We’ve toiled for so long but haven’t felt appreciated or heard. Maybe some have tried to improve circumstances, but failed to make headway. So in the end, succumbing to a sort of numbness, we simply move through the motions of one day after the next.

And here’s the problem.

Emily Chang | The Spare Room | blog | The sound of silence

Silence is like a cancer. It’s insidious. It slithers into the soul of a place, wrapping its oily tentacles around each beating heart. And then it squeezes the breath out of the place.

So, what’s the opposite of silence?

It’s not noise. It doesn’t come in the shape of artificial team off-sites or planted questions at the next large gathering.

Rather, I think the opposite of silence is candor. I think it’s about encouraging, enabling and supporting truth-telling. It’s about creating a space where psychological safety is provided, reinforced, and rewarded.

When candor runs through the veins of a workplace, people don’t feel silenced. Rather, we share ideas and ask questions.

We openly trade praise and criticisms because we want to make the place better.

We know our opinion will be heard.

We know we matter.