What is a major barrier that keeps people from speaking up?

February 27, 2020by Sandy Wilmer

Q: What is a major barrier that keeps people from speaking up?



A:  We call it the power gradient, it’s how much more important your boss is than you. It affects you like this – you don’t speak up against the boss.

Information flows inversely proportional to the power gradient, so the steeper the power gradient is, the worse the effect.

I worked with this global company in Switzerland and in the office building you can tell when you’re getting close to the CEO’s office because the carpet gets thicker and the rooms get quieter. I mean, literally, the carpet is noticeably thicker there. I see it, and I just laugh to myself. When people want to go from one side of the building to another, they actually go down a floor to cross under, they don’t go through there. There’s no official rule not to cross through but people still don’t do it. The kicker is then the executives say “Oh, well, we didn’t know, No one told us.” Yeah because you made yourselves inaccessible. That’s your fault.

In environments like cockpits and operating rooms, telling people “everyone has the ability to stop the procedure,” it not very helpful.  I’ve seen this. Imagine you’re on a medical operating unit or you’re about to fly an airplane and the top person is doing something you don’t agree with, or no one agrees with, everyone has the ability to raise their hand, but no one does.

Sandy Wilmer