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What managers should never want to hear: silence

Mark E. Haskins (Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA)
R. Edward Freeman (Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 13 July 2015



Every organizational member makes a daily decision to speak up or to be silent on a host of issues. Silence can be problematic. The purpose of this paper is to posit that managers should listen for the silence, not mistaking its presence for agreement or for understanding from those they work with and lead.


This paper’s “reflections on practice” (Schon, 1983) spring from 60+ years of discussions with practicing managers involving such questions as: “what makes for a sound, robust, successful decision-making process? How do you empower those you lead? What was missing in the decisions you have observed that went awry?”.


A critical set of seven questions and six statements that managers should want to periodically hear from their employees are presented and discussed. Four root causes of silence are also presented, along with suggestions for their mitigation.

Practical implications

The specifics presented are easily, broadly, and beneficially applicable.


Readers are cued to: the problematic nature of silence, the key questions and statements they should want to hear from time to time, the likely reasons for the silence they hear, and ideas for remediating those reasons.



Haskins, M.E. and Freeman, R.E. (2015), "What managers should never want to hear: silence", Management Decision, Vol. 53 No. 6, pp. 1300-1311.



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