“I’d like to have courageous conversations, but I can’t tell the truth here”, he told me, “because they won’t make it safe for me to do so”. He – a senior leader in a global corporation. They – the handful of people more senior (in a positional sense) than him.
We talked for a while, and it became apparent that he was only willing to speak up about what he was seeing when it felt as if there was no risk to him. No risk to his position, of course, but also no risk of feeling embarrassed, ashamed, scared, confused. No risk of the gut-wrenching, stomach-churning body sensation that can come from speaking without knowing what will happen.
I think this is an ethical question. The decision to say only what’s important when it feels right withholds from others vital information which may not be available to them. More significantly, by staying silent in the face of what appears wrong or mistaken you condone, by your silence, what is happening.
How can you call a conversation ‘courageous’ if it only happens when you know everything will be just fine?
All of this is so important because your organisation, whatever size it is, is inescapably part of the society in which we all get to live.
We all have to live with the consequences of your silence.