My last blog post highlighted the big problem of a culture of fear within many teams and organizations. In the middle of preparing today’s post, I’m doing some fall clean up in my garden while listening to a radio panel discussion on the huge problem of medical errors. Fear of speaking up or admitting mistakes – a lack of openness – was cited as one of the key contributors to the deaths, injuries, infections, and prolonged sickness from medical errors.

Courageous conversations work both ways. It takes courage to stand up and speak up and it takes courage to sit down and listen.

A British study found that telling bosses honestly and openly what you think of them actually benefits both managers and employees, boosting morale, reducing stress and improving communication…bosses actually do listen. Managers told by their employees what they thought of them were more likely to change, and improve, their management style. Those that didn’t were less likely to change, the study found. “Upward feedback from employees is critical to helping managers understand how they’re being perceived,” says Emma Donaldson-Feidler, a London-based occupational psychologist and author of the study.

– “Frankly Speaking,” Eleanor Beaton, The Globe & Mail

We know that communication is a problem, but the company is not going to discuss it with the employees.

– Manager’s response to an engagement survey at a large telecommunications company

In our view, the NASA organizational culture had as much to do with this accident as the foam…safety staff and some engineers were largely silent during the events leading up to the loss of Columbia…no one at NASA wants to be the one to stand up and say, “We can’t make that date.”…a pattern of ineffective communication had resulted, leaving risks improperly defined, problems unreported, and concerns unexpressed.

– Conclusions of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board formed to determine the cause of the 2003 explosion of the Columbia space shuttle when returning to earth

He who does not bellow the truth when he knows the truth makes himself the accomplice of liars and forgers.

– Charles Peguy, 1873-1914, French poet, essayist, and editor

Leaders can take steps to nurture transparency. By being open and candid, admitting their errors, encouraging employees to speak truth to power, and rewarding contrarians, executives can model the kind of conduct they want to see. Training employees to handle unpleasant conversations with grace also will break down barriers to honest communication…perhaps the biggest lever for cultural change is the executive selection process – choosing leaders for their transparent behavior, not just their ability to compete.

– “What’s Needed Next: A Culture of Candor,” professors James O’Toole, of the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, and Warren Bennis, of the University of Southern California Harvard Business Review

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

– Edmund Burke, 18th century Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher