Don’t Let Your People Fill In The Blanks
Have you ever heard the saying “It’s not what’s said, it’s what is unsaid that speaks the loudest”. There are many variations of this quote that say essentially the same message.
More prevalent are those quotes that edify what is unsaid – word and thoughts not wasted, some things better left unsaid, and so forth.
While there is some key advice in these, there is another area where unsaid words can reap a negative impact on your organization. that is when things are unsaid until your people start filling in the blanks.
Consider this: A healthcare facility department learns of their manager tendering her resignation. This director had championed her people and their mission, and came to some resistance within the organization. This news also came at a low time of census, which started to make the staff uneasy. Upper management then informed the staff that there would be a mandatory meeting in a week and a half. they did not answer any questions, and basically asked the employees to carry on in the interim.
During the next 10 days, rumors started to run about the department closing, due to the low census and the fact the the organization as a whole was losing money. That was why the “higher ups” staged a meeting. the staff also surmised that the manager left because of this alleged closure, and got wind of it and bailed before that happened. And perhaps the resistance she received was political and she got fed up, leaving the staff to face the bureaucracy. Staff started to get anxious, work suffered, and patients received a lesser level of care than before.
When the meeting was over the next week, the questions were answered opposite of the filled in answers to the communication gap. The manager left for a larger facility, with a substantial pay and career bump> And the facility was at a low census due to risk management mitigating the level of risk in admitted patients which soon got to normal levels the week after.
While the organization was not at fault for the resignation or low census, it did fail in leaving things unsaid and leaving blanks in communication for the staff to – erroneously – fill in. Nothing will counteract culture, productivity, and synergy faster than not having a strong level of leadership to prevent communication blanks.
Here is what you can do to fill in the blanks before your people do:
- Jump on the communication immediately. This company should have had an immediate meeting with the staff and contacted everyone to explain the reasons for the events that transpired. The longer they waited the more chance for incorrect information to be manufactured and disseminated.
- Be upfront, honest, and transparent. Staff like it when you talk straight with them. Give them the faacts and be brave enough to have those difficult discussions, particularly if their is doubt or indicators contrary to what you’re saying. The more this occurs, the more your words carry weight.
- Give opportunity to listen and answer questions. By keeping an ear to the grapevine, you can gain a lot of insight into what people are feeling. Take every chance to talk with people in groups or individually to hear them and counter their fears and anxiety with the facts and reassure them.
- Speak to the culture, the mission, and the vision. Finish every conversation by leading people out of the negativity and forward looking to the bigger picture. This is not an attempt to falsely redirect, but rather to truthfully re-calibrate everyone’s thinking towards the overall goal and where you are all heading. The more culture and vision are promoted in your organization, the less likely there will be room for filling in the blanks with anything off-base. Your people will be more readily able to say what is congruent to the organization and squelch rumors and gaps altogether.
Keep your finger on the pulse of your people. Close those communication gaps and work diligently to fill in the blanks that lead to culture breakdown.