Please Don’t Talk About THAT

Many times, I hear people say things like: “you can talk about this and can talk about that, but please don’t talk about that.”

I remember when I was a little girl and whenever a controversial subject came up my mother used to say “shhh” and her mother used to say “shhh” and my other grandmother used to say the same. Generally everyone said “shhh” to keep the peace.

As an adult this comes up all the time. When you’re dealing with your kids’ school and there is an issue, you don’t want to antagonize the teacher or the principal. When you’re at work and there is a difficult issue, you don’t want to antagonize your boss. And of course in your relationship when a difficult issue comes up you don’t want to antagonize your partner.

But I was reading this good article about the Google way of solving problems – which is to “attack” them – and it reminded me of something I have learned over time. The only way to truly tackle a difficult issue is to have everybody talk about it pretty much openly, without anyone being told to “keep your mouth shut,” whether implicitly or explicitly, especially nowadays when we have so many problems to solve. We just don’t have time for this kind of nonsense.

One other point. I have had the experience of going from environments where you weren’t supposed to talk, to those where you were encouraged to contribute every idea that could help to address an issue. And it was an amazing feeling to be treated as though all opinions were valuable.

What I saw was that when the level of trust and respect in a group is high, it is possible to share conflicting points of view and even to disagree on things that can only be resolved through someone making a decision that the other person will never agree with. The decision can be made and everyone can agree to disagree and simply finish the job and go about their day it isn’t taken personally and it doesn’t leave a lasting wound.

Stifling conversation clamping down on conflict and otherwise trying to control the conversation is so 20th century, so “Organization Man.” It’s time to embrace a new paradigm where everybody gets to have their say.


All opinions my own. Photo by Laura Taylor via Flickr.

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David B. Grinberg

Another excellent post, Dannielle. It’s always refreshing to read your words of wisdom. As you noted, one never knows where the next innovative idea or big solution may come from in an organization, thus fostering open dialogue and debate from the top-down and the bottom-up should be of utmost importance.


I agree. Gone are the days of “open door” policies from upper management. It’s more “do as I say” and don’t ask questions. Sorry, I don’t follow those guidelines. I am a question person, who expresses herself very well, and I like confrontations. I need to get it out and move on, so I can have a productive day and go home “not upset”. There is a lady in my group who was under the “do as I say” manager, and she is now hurt, has no trust for the company, and very hard to work with because she trust no one. The manager is gone. How do you help this person get beyond her hurts?

Dannielle Blumenthal

How do you help someone get beyond her hurt? You tell her she is awesome. You take her for coffee. You get a small group going and fix something.

Then you demo it and give her the credit.

Optimally her boss, someone in a position of power says the exact thing she needs to hear. You are safe here, you have an idea, speak. And that same powerful person defends her when necessary.

All the way up the chain, across the chain and outward to the public. Which responds with delight, further reinforcing the better way of doing things.

Dennis Martin

I agree with your approach to healing a deep organizational hurt…this could also help others who were less seriously wounded by that boss.

However we need to remember that in some cases the hurt may be so deep that one attempt may not be enough; it may take two, three or ‘many’ such attempts. And don’t be frustrated if many attempts only yield minor change; the important thing is to never give up on a coworker.