If you've ever seen a bad situation at work but decided not to speak up about it, you could be costing your organizations thousands of dollars a year, new research finds.
A study from the leadership training firm VitalSmarts revealed that each time an employee avoids a crucial conversation, it costs the worker's employer $7,500.
The research uncovered a variety of types of "conversation failures." Specifically, 72 percent of the 1,025 employees surveyed reported instances when they or others failed to speak up effectively when a peer did not pull his or her weight. Meanwhile, 68 said they failed to address disrespect, and 57 percent said they let peers slide when they skirted important workplace processes.
The research found that the five most common types of conversation failures are:
- Not confronting colleagues who use harsh language, backstab others, withhold necessary information or resist feedback.
- Not speaking up when a work-related proposal is filled with errors or based on faulty thinking.
- Not talking to colleagues about their poor work habits, incompetence or lack of engagement.
- Failing to discuss when those in charge try to bully others in order to get their way.
- Not getting clarification when employees are uncertain about their roles, responsibilities or expected time lines.
Rather than speaking up, those surveyed said they tend to complain to others, do unnecessary work and deliberate about the problem. In the end, 50 percent of employees said they waste at least seven days a year because they have avoided conversations. [See Related Story: 5 Ways Bosses Are Killing Company Culture]
Overall, 25 percent of the employees surveyed estimated that their inability to speak up in crucial moments costs their organization more than $50,000.
"This study confirms what we've seen over the past 30 years: One of the costliest barriers to organizational performance is unresolved crucial conversations," Joseph Grenny, one of the study's authors and co-founder of VitalSmarts, said in a statement.
"The few who know how to speak up don't waste time avoiding crucial issues, because they have the confidence and skills to raise them in a way that leads to productive dialogue."
In addition to the financial implications, the research found that conversation failures also harm employee morale and engagement, relationships, corporate culture, project time lines, and budgets.
Part of the problem is that many employees don't feel empowered to speak up when they know they should, the study said. Just 1 percent of those surveyed said they feel extremely confident in voicing their concerns in crucial moments. In addition, one-third said their culture does not promote or support holding critical conversations.
Grenny and David Maxfield, the study's co-author and vice president of research for VitalSmarts, said that to reduce the costs of failed conversations, employers need to better train their employees to voice their concerns quickly and effectively. VitalSmarts offered several tips on what employers should be teaching their employees :
- Change your thinking: Instead of thinking about the risks that come from speaking up, think about the risks that come from not voicing your concerns.
- Diffuse your emotions: Many important conversations fail because people are irritated, angry or disgusted when holding those interactions. Instead of hearing your words, those you are talking to are more affected by those emotions. You are best served by trying to soften your strong emotions by seeing others as reasonable, rational and decent human beings. This will help you come across as more agreeable.
- Make others feel secure: When sensitive topics are discussed, many people become defensive. To get those in your interaction to feel safe, start critical conversations by assuring others of your positive intentions and respect for them. When people feel respected and trust your motives, they are more likely to let their guards down and listen.
- Encourage discussions: Once you have created a safe environment, make sure the other person understands that it is OK to disagree with you. Those who are best at holding crucial conversations don't just try to push their opinions on others; they also learn from those they are speaking to.