Many people remain silent
In Sweden, we are often bad at saying what we think. Afraid of conflicts, we prefer to nag on our own without saying outright what we see. But if we practice giving and receiving feedback, we may get more inclusive and equal workplaces. Ulrika Georgsson discusses this in her column.
Why are you interrupting me all the time? Do you have to raise your voice and point your whole hand at me? Can you stop talking so patronizing about immigrants?
Thoughts I had but did not say outright. Luckily, because they are full of mistakes and would probably have had zero effect if I had expressed them. I once learned that you should start and end with positive feedback for criticism to be well received. And I have in mind that you should formulate like “I feel ... when you ...” But I am bad at giving and receiving feedback, and I am not alone.
That humans are afraid of conflicts is an innate feeling which, according to the psychologist and sociologist Fredric Bohm, is more substantial in societies where one is expected to follow the pattern. And that is something that characterizes Swedish work culture. In short, Swedes are a little extra bad at saying what we think. We prefer to be silent and then go and whine about how crappy everything is.
I think we can benefit from being a little straighter towards each other. Besides the most obvious benefits, such as effective organizations and healthy employees (which leadership coaches love to talk about on their websites), I think it can go beyond that. Maybe we can even get more inclusive and equal workplaces if we are good at feedback. If we are used to saying what we think and bringing up uncomfortable things, I believe it will be easier to act when truly needed. Maybe you were ignored at a meeting or received a comment about your appearance that was not ok. But you said nothing. No one said anything, even though people saw what was happening. Of those who get sexually harassed in the workplace, a large proportion never report. They do not tell anyone.
Of course, there can be many explanations for why we do not talk about the unpleasant. Uncertainty about where to draw the line and power distributed unevenly between the people involved can make us reluctant to tell. And indeed, we calculate risk versus profit before we open our mouths.
“ If I reckon that I have nothing to gain from expressing criticism but instead can be punished,” says Fredric Bohm, “most of us choose to remain silent. And we tend to become more conformist the clearer punishment we can visualize”.
I think of the hierarchical research world where students are dependent on teachers’ grades, doctoral students are dependent on supervising from professors, and researchers depend on being cited by each other. Anyone treated abusively in this world probably thinks twice before reporting because honesty can punish the victim.
So no, there is no quick fix on this. But I believe that we can take small steps forward by practicing saying what we think and feel. If we train in the little things, for example, when we are interrupted by something over and over again, then we are prepared for the day when we really need to say no.
Text: Ulrika Georgsson
Source: Fredric Bohm, www.duochjobbet.se