Is this happening in your team?

  • People are texting each other what they really think during a video or conference call
  • The real conversation happens after the meeting or call
  • Your team doesn’t debate all sides of important issues and avoids touchy topics
  • People agree to a plan of action but then do something else
  • Personal accountability is avoided, deadlines missed, and commitments aren’t kept
  • A few vocal people dominate conversations and cut-off dissenting opinions
  • Once the leader gives their opinion everyone else agrees or stays silent

These are “moose tracks.” They’re signs of moose-on-the-table — a very Canadian metaphor. You might call them elephants-in-the-room or 800-pound gorillas. Whatever they’re called, they’re symptoms of silence that’s not golden. It can be literally — dead silence. It kills — ideas and people.

On reviewing research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Steve Harden said, “47% of staff feel free to question the decisions or actions of those with more authority… the data tells us that if any hierarchy is present in the interaction, over 50% of staff will not speak up. This is a serious patient safety issue.”

Many leaders recognize the problem — in others. Most leaders proclaim they have open doors and welcome feedback. But often there’s a big disconnect between good intentions and behavior. In “So You Think You’re a Good Listener,” Patrick Barwise and Seán Meehan report “Our research — based on Personnel Decisions International’s surveys of over 4,000 U.S. managers across various industries and functions revealed the gap between managers’ self-evaluations and colleagues’ assessments is widest when it comes to gauging receptiveness to hearing about difficult issues…in most boss-subordinate relationships, superiors overestimate their openness to receiving difficult messages and simultaneously underestimate the extent to which the power difference discourages subordinates from speaking their minds.”

A Corporate Executive Board poll found that nearly half of executive teams don’t get critical information because employees are afraid to be the bearers of bad news. Clearly, many messengers are being shot when they don’t tell their bosses what they want to hear. Only 19% of executive teams are promptly given bad news that could have a big impact on the firm’s performance.

Not only does silence hurt organizations, it increases employee stress and burnout. Based on a meta-analysis of multiple studies and their own follow up study of 405 employees of different companies, Michael Parke and Elad Sherf concluded, “people can more easily live with lethargy or a lack of enthusiasm (not being encouraged to contribute) than with fear (worrying about calling out a problem).” The title of their article warns, “you might not be hearing your team’s best ideas.”

Do you have a moose problem? Take our short quiz to do some moose hunting. Do you have and open door and closed mind? How do you know? That’s the critical question. Many leaders suffer from optical delusion. They can’t see the moose because people aren’t speaking up, pushing back, or giving honest feedback. Silence creates blissful ignorance…until big problems seem to pop out nowhere — like a moose crashing through your car’s windshield as you’re driving through the fog.

Do you hear that? If you’re picking up sounds of moose or seeing a few tracks, click here for tips to reduce the moose.