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  • Niko Verheulpen

Silent Sovereignty - The Unheard Voices Behind the Throne

Updated: Apr 24


“Opening scene”

In many offices and workplaces, appearances can deceive. While the figure of authority stands tall at the forefront, it's the hidden figures lurking in the shadows that hold untold truths. Just like these wooden figurines, some voices remain obscured, masked by the facade of unanimity. Yet, these silent spectators, echoing the leader's every move, hold within them a wealth of untapped potential and insight. It's time to shine a light on these overlooked voices and unveil the true dynamics that shape our workplace culture.


Introduction

Picture this: A manager walks out of a meeting room, feeling accomplished. The meeting went smoothly, decisions were made, and everyone seemed to agree. But unbeknownst to this manager, a different narrative was unfolding. At the coffee machine, whispers of discontent circulate among the staff. Concerns raised in the meeting were dismissed or brushed aside, leaving some feeling unheard and undervalued.


This scenario is all too familiar in many workplaces. Managers often believe that consensus achieved in formal meetings translates to genuine agreement and alignment among team members. Yet, the reality is often far from it. Behind closed doors, dissenting voices emerge, grievances are aired, but seldom addressed.


The manager remains blissfully unaware of the brewing discord. After all, there's little time for informal chats by the coffee machine, and even if there were, conversations tend to stay positive. Meanwhile, a dangerous pattern emerges. Those who dare to voice concerns are silenced or dismissed, while others adapt, mirroring the manager's opinions and behaviours to avoid conflict.


In this dynamic, silence becomes the invisible hazard—a breeding ground for resentment, disengagement, and ultimately, a toxic work environment. As dissenting voices fade into the background, genuine collaboration and innovation suffer. The manager, oblivious to the growing divide within the team, continues to lead based on flawed assumptions of unanimous agreement.


But the repercussions of this silence are not limited to individual wellbeing. The entire organisation suffers as creativity stagnates, trust erodes, and turnover rates climb, at best, because there’s also silent resignation which can be far more costly to any organisation. Yet, the cycle persists, perpetuated by a culture of fear and conformity.


Breaking the Silence: The Role of External Coaches

This status quo is something people eventually become accustomed to, and the danger lies in the fact that over time, only outsiders or new hires may notice that something isn't quite right. However, when new hires speak out too early, they risk being labelled as not fitting into the culture, leading them to either conform or leave.


Enter external coaches, tasked with catalysing change within organisations. Often, these interventions occur when it's evident that change is necessary, albeit not always directed to the right people.


As external training providers, we recognise the unique role we play, not just in delivering training sessions, but in disrupting entrenched group dynamics that may be impossible to shift from within.


External interventions can breathe new life into team dynamics, fostering an environment where people feel empowered to speak up without fear of reprisal. This renewed openness can lead to a surge in collaboration, creativity, and trust within the organisation. When leadership witnesses this transformation, they often begin to recognise the opportunities that come with breaking the silence that has persisted for too long. It's akin to the first rays of sunshine breaking through after a long and dark winter – a harbinger of brighter days ahead.


Mapping and Measuring Psychological Safety

Companies rely heavily on organisational metrics and benchmarking for assessing psychological safety, but these methods have limitations. Written surveys, whether managed internally or externally, may not fully capture employees' true sentiments due to underlying trust issues. That's where external trainers come in.


While surveys and assessments are valuable tools, they're most effective when complemented by direct interventions. External trainers work to rebuild trust and create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences. By fostering open dialogue and boosting confidence, external trainers pave the way for meaningful conversations that lead to genuine insights into the organisation's psychological safety.


In addition to surveys, observational assessments, behavioural indicators, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews provide valuable qualitative data for assessing psychological safety. These methods, coupled with the expertise of external coaches, offer a comprehensive approach to mapping and measuring psychological safety within organisations.


Ultimately, breaking the silence and fostering psychological safety requires a concerted effort from both internal and external stakeholders. By recognising the invisible hazards of silence and embracing interventions that promote open communication and trust, organisations can create healthier, more resilient workplaces where every voice is heard and valued.


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