Is Silence Killing Your Company?

by Leslie Perlow and Stephanie Williams

SILENCE IS ASSOCIATED WITH MANY virtues: modesty, respect for others, prudence, decorum. Thanks to deeply ingrained rules of etiquette, people silence themselves to avoid embarrassment, confrontation, and other perceived dangers. There’s an old saying that sums up the virtues of silence: “Better to be quiet and thought a fool than to talk and be known as one.”

The social virtues of silence are reinforced by our survival instincts. Many organizations send the message—verbally or nonverbally—that falling into line is the safest way to hold on to our jobs and further our careers. The need for quiet submission is exaggerated by today’s difficult economy, where millions of people ...

Get HBR's 10 Must Reads Collection (12 Books) now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.