Breaking the sound of silence

In 1964, Paul Simon wrote a song called Sound of Silence that became planted in our brains and endures today. When Simon was asked how he, as a 21-year old lyricist, could come up with words with such deep meaning, his response was that he didn’t know. So, like many forms of art the meaning of the piece wasn’t clear; listeners have been left to their own devices to determine what the words mean.

For me, The Sound of Silence become an anthem for the need to speak up when others are being harmed. Yet I’m aware that our world can feel threatening, and people can feel unable to say what they need to say to those in power.

As much as I dislike admitting it, our workplaces can express the worst of humanity. And if leaders don’t call out unkind, disrespectful or corrupt acts, they can be prolonged. The very meaning of leader requires you to speak up when others do not; to be a voice when others cannot find theirs.

Inhumanity in the workplace must not be tolerated. Gather up your courage and:

Speak truth to power of the corrupt, disrespectful, exclusive, and hurtful kind. There will always be individuals who seize power they don’t deserve through demeaning speech and action.  Be the leader who stands up to that kind of power; call it what it is. While doing so, be a model of respect for the individuals involved while not tolerating their actions. Assure that your workplace is cruelty-free by using your voice to counteract violence in any form.

Show compassion by reaching out to those who have been suffering from workplace violence in any way. Even more difficult, show compassion for the individuals who are causing the suffering. If that sounds like a tall order, it is. But people who wield power by harming others often have things going on that are hidden – lack of confidence, mental or physical pain, for example. You never know what others are going through beyond what you actually see. Soften your stance on them with that in mind.

Encourage others to speak up when they observe inhumane behavior. Guide them, be their mentor, and support them when they do so. Nobody should feel isolated and alone when they speak their truth. Listen and accept what you hear without initial judgment as they tell you what they’ve observed. Coach them in how to respond in a way that is firm while showing respect for the person(s) who perpetrated the deed, but calls out their action with clarity.

Yes, this is difficult, and there are risks. Yet when inhumane treatment of others occurs in the workplace, be the leader that you are and push beyond the fear and the silence that others are exhibiting. Speak up!

Simon and Garfunkle singing their beautiful signature Sound of Silence can be viewed here.

An almost-equally beautiful cover of the song by Disturbed can be viewed here .

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.