When employees don't get the necessary information to perform their jobs, including the answers to the Fundamental Four Questions, they tend to "fill in the blanks" with their own assumptions, and their assumptions are often worst-case scenarios.
This is not necessarily a reflection on the leader. It's our natural human insecurity. We often assume the worst in the absence of evidence to the contrary. Lack of information and unanswered questions can start the silence spiral:
- Silence leads to doubt;
- Doubt leads to fear;
- Fear leads to panic;
- Panic leads to worst-case thinking.
The silence spiral undermines trust and puts a damper on passion. It can take five minutes or five weeks to play out, but in most cases, it happens more rapidly than we would imagine. A closed office door, a vague reply to an honest question, an unreciprocated greeting as you pass in the hallway, or a canceled one-on-one meeting can trigger the silence spiral.
Prevent the silence spiral by proactively explaining expectations. Nothing compares to hearing the facts directly from the boss. For example, if you learn about a new project or change that won't affect your team for a few months, go ahead and give them a heads-up now. They can start preparing, or at minimum, they won't be caught off guard or be inclined to listen to and perpetuate rumors. Inspiring coaches realize they are not really protecting their teams by keeping them in the dark.
Employees will either find out difficult truths on their own or may make assumptions that are worse than reality. More important, silence chips away at trust and leadership credibility.
So, use every interaction, meeting, and communication to explain expectations.