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How Leaders Train Employees to Keep Quiet - Psychology 101

We know the problem, right? People don't speak up. Ok, but why not? That is more interesting than the fact that people are not raising issues. They have been taught over and over again not to. How?

Let's say, you have raised issues at work several times, or provided solutions to make things (processes) easier but they were repeatedly dismissed. You learned that no matter what you do, you cannot change the situation so, you stop offering more ideas.

You then change your job thinking that it will be different somewhere else. You end up in the same situation. After a third or fourth work environment like that, you stop trying and just say "It is what it is, there is nothing I can do. I tried many times."

However, you finally ended up in an environment that welcomes ideas and is open to change. But you already learned your lesson of being helpless. This will negatively impact your career at that company as you will be seen as passive to change or someone who doesn't initiate change. So never stop trying! You never know!

This is what we call learned helplessness (conducted on dogs).

"In psychology, learned helplessness is a state that occurs after a person has experienced a stressful situation repeatedly. They come to believe that they are unable to control or change the situation, so they do not try — even when opportunities for change become available."

Another great study on rats showed the same thing in a different context. Let's say from the managers' or leaders' perspective.

When rats fight the bigger rat (manager or leader) lets the smaller rat (employees) win at least 30% of the time despite they could win all fights. Why?

Because they know that if they win 100% of the fights the small rats will stop playing. If the small rats don't win at least 3 out of 10 matches, they will stop asking for matches. So the fun is over for both of them.

Now understand that within the context of ideas, raising issues, speaking up etc..... Managers and leaders must keep the scores just like rats do unless they want employees to stop playing.

So, if employees are not speaking up, not bringing new ideas to the table we need to look are two areas. Have they been taught to behave like that? And, do the managers and leaders let them win at least 30% of the time?

Have that conversation with your teams and you will be amazed at what you get!

Also, ask yourself the question, which areas of my life am I acting helpless when in fact I could change my situation?

People often ask how I use my Master's in Applied Psychology. Like this:-)

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