How Silence Messes Up Teamwork Plus A 4-Step Solution

What if the complainers are not your biggest problem?

What if silence has deafened your ears to serious underlying issues?

What if suffering in silence is masking serious discontent?

Beneath S-Style Behaviour

In our DISCerning Model of Communication, S-Style behaviour is represented as “Reserved/People-oriented”. Features include a willingness to overlook issues with the philosophy that life is not perfect, and discomfort is one of life’s realities. This may be taken to the point of suffering in self-sacrificial silence.

Another feature of S-Style behaviour is a desire for a peaceful life. This may be manifested as unwillingness to cause offence or to rock the boat. In that mode, it is possible that the existence of problems might be masked.

In our work with a cross-section of teams under different circumstances, issues related to S-Style behaviour are never given as the reason for the intervention. The overwhelming reported challenge is “dealing with dominance”.

S-Style issues fly under the radar and are largely undetected. Yet, overlooking them can have serious negative impact on the team, it’s members and the organization.

The People Component

The state of mind of team members is an important indicator of how well a team will perform over time. Happy cows give more milk.

Another feature of S-Style behaviour is the capacity for empathy and sensitivity to the feelings of others. Consequently, they represent a critical barometer of the mood of the team and the organization.

When that voice is not heard, the organization is at great risk. It loses touch with its most valuable asset – its people.

Important insights that may not be apparent on the surface go unnoticed only to turn up as major problems later.

3 Key Reasons for the Silence

S-Style individuals tend to go underground and withhold their comments for a number of reasons.

#1. Trust issues

In low trust environments, individuals with a preference for the S-Style tend to opt out of sharing their thoughts.

#2. Respect

These individuals are not keen on imposing themselves on others. Consequently, they need to have a sense of assurance that their input is valued and that they are respected members of the team. This does not come from a place of arrogance. In fact, it is the result of the very opposite – the understatement of self.

#3. Deference

S-Style individuals tend to be willing to stay in the background and to make way for others. In that mode, they may undervalue the importance of their contribution and give greater sway to the input of others. Given their unique perspective, that is not in the best interest of the team.

4 Keys To More Open Communication

  1. Culture change

Invest time and resources in developing a high trust culture. A good start is to help people to understand themselves and others. Objective behavioural assessments are an essential component of that process.

  1. Patience

Effective listening requires patience and consistency. This is not achieved with a quick survey, focus group or team huddle. One of our Certified Behavioural Coach participants suggested that a courtship is required. This is a one-on-one engagement. It may require multiple interactions before the desired level of sharing is achieved.

  1. Impact

The harsh reality is that while modesty and the willingness to step back are admirable in some situations, we also have a responsibility to the team, organization and ourselves to make our presence felt. We short-change everybody when we deny them access to information that could enhance wellbeing and performance.

As integral members of the team there should not have to be any need for us to be coaxed into sharing valuable insights. It is our responsibility.

  1. Practice

Discuss as a group what steps and mechanisms would be useful in making it easier to members to share information. Routinely implement the suggestions until they become an integral part of team and organization culture. How feedback is received and handled can alter the success of trust-building initiatives.

ACTION Learn more about our DISCerning Model of Communication & Leadership. Request a free copy of our publication: DISCerning Communication – Comprehensive Guide to Interpersonal Relations, Leadership and Coaching at