The Sounds of Silence

I had thought about the presentation to the team a lot. A whole lot. I had thought through why we really needed this new program. How we could implement it. What it would cost in terms of personnel and funding. What the possible objections might be and how to respond. I was prepared.

During the presentation to the team, I followed the script. At the conclusion, I asked what they thought about it. There wasn’t much response and zero pushback. I asked why we wouldn’t want to do this. A “speak now or forever hold your peace” moment. No one voice any objections. I felt really good driving home that evening.

My wife asked me how it had gone. I said, “Great. I worked though my outline and there we no objections. I could see that they were convinced we really needed it and should implement it. ” Sherry, knowing me better than anyone, asked a simple question, “Why was there no pushback?”

Not wanting to sound the obvious that there was no pushback because it was my idea, I decided on a different tack. I patiently walked her through my preparation for the presentation. That in essence, I had already answered their objections which convinced them not only of the need for it, but that we should do it.

Not letting me off the hook that easy, she then responded with, “I think you ought to ask them why they didn’t pushback.” I told her I thought that would be a pointless exercise. She held firm to her suggestion. Basically, to get her off my back, I said I’d ask the next morning but was confident that they would still be for it as much as I thought they had been earlier in the day.

So, I started the morning’s session with that question thinking that their affirming response would give me a little opportunity to tell Sherry, “See, I told you so.” However, almost instantly after asking why there had been no pushback, I sensed I was in trouble. I noticed that the eight other team members all began looking at each other as if to ask with their facial expressions, “Who is going to tell him?” Finally, Dan answered rather slowly but firmly, “Terry, the reason we did not push back on your proposal yesterday was that we have come to learn that when you’re excited about a project, you’re going to do regardless of what we say. You won’t listen to us. We cannot out-argue you, and we are tired of trying.” Ouch, did that sting!

Key Lesson

And it was the start of some rather painful changes in my leadership style. One key lesson stands out. My enthusiasm for the idea communicated that this was not a draft proposal. It was a done deal. Due diligence in preparation is one thing. A completed package is quite another. It was a highly energized sales pitch that muted their voices. In fact, I overwhelmed their voices. It indicated that I was more interested in selling my idea than in letting them come up with a better one or shape the one I had into an even better idea. And this was not the first time. Our previous history on other projects had solidified their view that all I really wanted was buy in not push back, questions, or changes. Why even have a team then?

The sounds of silence may be an indication that you’re pushing too hard, trying to sell it instead of improve it, trying to convince more than construct.

What might your team’s silence be telling you?

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