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The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.Lee Iacocca

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Facilitating open expression in the company

Facilitating open expression in the company

Knowing how to speak honestly to one another is absolutely critical inside a company. Yet, many reasons push us, on the contrary, to hold our tongue. How can we set up the necessary conditions to enable free expression?


Has it become easier to speak honestly inside companies nowadays than it was before? We could think so, given the relationships among staff and between hierarchical levels, which have become less formal than they used to be. In many companies, a friends-like tone of exchange has become the norm, and management has become more participative, giving way to a right—and almost a duty—of the employees to express themselves to their managers. Employees have become “collaborators”, to whom their managers are encouraged to give ownership and autonomy. In theory, the framework is thus present to enable everyone to dare raise important topics, even the potentially upsetting ones.

In reality, the obstacles to free expression remain numerous. The impact of hierarchies persists, even when they have been alleviated. According to a recent study, 85% of employees admit that they gave up on discussing an important business aspect with their superior. Even in organizations with flattened structures, informal hierarchies and an implicit social control continue to carry some weight: “Do I have the right to question or challenge this person with greater experience than me, this leader everyone acknowledges for his/her vision and charisma?”  Not to mention the courage needed to be the first to address a problem known by all, yet apparently taboo: “How will my intervention be perceived? What will its consequences be on my social image, on my relationships with the team members, on my career? Is it relevant that I talk, now, while the team is already on edge to keep the delays?”

Thus, the fears of slowing down the team’s work, of upsetting people’s susceptibility or of going beyond our duty represent many hurdles to free expression. Hurdles that are the most difficult to lift in that they are implicit and associated with every employee’s perception. Nonetheless, you can lower them, both through your attitude as a leader and by institutionalizing the practice of debate in the organization.

In this synopsis:
– Authorize your teams to ask for “time to think”
– Lift the hurdles to collective debate
– Control your language to avoid discouraging free speech

Synopsis n.293b