Studies across the world have repeatedly shown that in around 85% of businesses, people are aware that there are problems but are afraid to raise them. In her book and TED talks, Margaret Heffernan calls this ‘Willful Blindness’ – the point where we have chosen to ignore something because that seems like the easier path.
Why don’t we speak up? What is it that we are afraid of? Most often, we are worried about the conflict that will result from pointing out a problem. This is a very human response, and one that we don’t just see in business – we see it in our personal lives too.
In order to break the silence, Heffernan suggests that we reframe the potential for conflict as an opportunity to think about what is happening. ‘Thinking’ together will involve debate, disagreement and yes, potentially conflict … but it is also what leads to creativity and solutions. As she says, “companies don’t have ideas – people do,” and in order to have ideas – to solve problems – people need to communicate. We need to talk to each other.
This is not always easy. When we are in a situation where we don’t seem to have a good choice – where we can’t see a safe path, then it takes courage to speak up and address the problems at hand.
But we also know that when we don’t speak up, then nothing changes …
Is there anyone you need to spend some time thinking with, rather than about?