The High Cost of Silence

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Remember your first day on a new job?  Everything was new, exciting.  There was so much to take in.  First impressions at every turn.  Seeing a place for the first time was fresh and new.  You probably noticed things that others took for granted.  Maybe your desk or office area was a little run down.  Furniture didn’t match.  There were a lot of things stacked up on desks, bookcases.  What’s that old Rolodex doing on your desk?  And the box of floppy disks next to the instruction manuals for Lotus Notes, version 1?  The fact that the arm of your desk chair is taped together with duct tape? 

New employees see things with fresh eyes.  And they can get away with bringing things up that everyone else takes for granted.  It’s an opportunity to point things out and be forgiven since you’re the new kid on the block.

This ability to point out things that don’t make sense is the subject of a Forbes article, “1 Thing New Hires Can Do that Others Can’t.”  The author, Ken Krogue, tells about his experience as a new employee, coming in his first day and noticing an orange extension cord winding down the hallway from the reception area and into another office.  When he asked the receptionist about it, she asked, “What extension cord.”  It has been there so long, no one even noticed it anymore.

New employees see things and can talk about them, even though their co-workers may not feel comfortable doing so.  There are so-called “800-pound elephants” all around the workplace that employees aren’t willing to talk about or just don’t notice anymore.  The crummy furniture.  Internet or wireless service so slow that you can do your nails or take a short nap while waiting.  Boring weekly staff briefings that lost their value long ago.  Ineffective customer service policies, tired scripts that customers hate, and little or no training for new customer service reps.

Some may say that it’s better to stay silent, let things go and not make waves.    It could be fear of exposing the boss’s inability to make changes or to get the rest of the team to follow her lead.  Employees get frustrated and give up when their ideas and suggestions are given a quick audience and then dismissed.  Or worse, managers promise to make changes and then forget all about them.  The problem with staying silent, especially in customer service, is things don’t get better for the customer, the company or the employees.

Customers aren’t shy about speaking up.  Customer service employees, whether they are new hires or not, should learn to speak up for themselves and their customers.  Keeping silent is also a way of making a statement.  People assume you’re OK with whatever is going on.  Otherwise, you’d say something, Right?  Wrong!  If employees don’t speak up and point out the orange extension cords or ineffective customers service policies, management may think everything is OK and things will never change.

There are lots of reasons to speak up at work.  Have you ever been in a meeting and had a great idea but didn’t say anything?  And then, someone else suggested the same thing and everyone thought they were a genius?  Chances are, if you think something needs to be addressed or if you have a question, someone else does too.  You can lose your opportunity to stand out and gain respect if you stay silent.

After about six weeks on the job, Krogue confessed he didn’t see the orange extension cord anymore either.  New hire or veteran, everyone should observe the workplace with a critical eye, always looking for ways to make improvements, and speak up. 

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