A friend, Dave Thornton, mentioned to me a quote that he heard which promoted me to write this post, and the quote was “freedom of speech only exists if you agree with everyone else”.
It reminded that as leaders, bosses and managers, it is our duty to create an environment where everyone feels safe to contribute, to say what they think and feel, even if is it contrary to our opinion or the majority opinion.
Currently we talk endlessly about diversity and the importance of inclusion of different cultures, sexes, different points of view, etc., but it doesn’t matter how our demographics are, if we have a created an environment where no one feels comfortable disagreeing with us.
I worked at one company where the boss said we had a safe and open environment, where everyone was able to contribute their views, whether they agreed with her view or not.
This was a great idea, but the reality was actually different. Whenever people came up with an alternative theory or challenged her thinking, they were immediately shot down.
It got so bad that people just agreed with her, so as to not be in conflict with her. She had created a culture of fear, which was in direct conflict, with the actual result she was looking for.
I truly believe that she wanted a safe and open environment where people were free to contribute and that we would have a wide range of divers opinions and input, where we could discuss topics freely, but her actions created the complete opposite.
Once we were in the mode where no one challenged her, the environment was without conflict, but only because people chose not to say anything.
This conflict free environment gave her the impression she had created exactly what she had wanted, a safe and open environment.
It never occurred to her that there was no disagreement because people were afraid to say what they thought, she just assumed we were all in agreement.
As I said at the start, it is our responsibility to create safe environments, and we should strive to do that.
If there is no disagreement, then I would say that potentially we have failed, we should see the presence of disagreement as a better indicator of a safe and open environment.
As Margaret Thatcher said “I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.”
If people feel that the can argue and debate with you, and that you will listen: then you have created a safe environment.