file000205431503The role you play within your organization is not the same thing as your job. If you don’t know what your job is, then you’re in trouble. But you may not recognize your role.

Are you the quiet voice of reason? Do you cut to the chase? Are you the insightful one? The realistic one? The dreamer? The peacemaker? The one who always stirs the pot?

Do you offer solutions? Or ask the tough questions? Do you look on the bright side, or do you plan for every contingency? Do you have a soft touch? Or a loud mouth? Maybe you plan the fun or pull on the reins when others get carried away.

Most of us play more than one role in different situations and for different reasons; however, we are usually identified with one particular attribute that we always bring to the table without fail.

The worst role is no role. I mean, some roles are more palatable than others. Some serve a valuable purpose, while others simply grate. But having no role may mean that you are on the sidelines and simply don’t care enough to weigh in, voice an opinion, take a side, take a stand, or ruffle some feathers. Or maybe it means that you lack confidence that your perspective matters or might make a difference.

Worse yet may be organizations that have room for only one role–toeing the company line. If going against the tide is not permitted where you work, then everyone has the same role–acquiescence by omission.

The role you play may actually be more important than the job you do unless especially if there is a silent majority that rules the roost where you work. I am intrigued by silence; apparently others are, too.

I came across this study, Employee Silence: Quiescence and Acquiescence as Responses to Perceived Injustice. To cite or not to cite? I could cite it, but since this is a blog not a research paper and citations were the bane of my existence in library school, I choose not to cite but to link in order to attribute credit. If you cannot access the full text through a library database, then Google it.

It’s long, but fascinating. Don’t be fooled by the introduction, which focuses on rape within the military. The article addresses the concept of employee silence within all contexts. Although the premise is that there is some sort of injustice or an employee has been mistreated, the concepts presented can easily be applied to cultural silence across the board. In the interest of time, skip to page 15–“Organizational Causes of Employee Silence.”

Here is an interesting passage from page 19:

Some insight into long-held silences is provided by the spiral of silence (Noelle-Neumann, 1974), a phenomenon by which we assess the degree of public support an opinion enjoys before expressing that opinion. If we perceive strong support, we feel more confident about the legitimacy of our view, and are more willing to disclose it publicly. However, when public support is seen as weak, we tend to view ourselves as a part of a “deviant minority,” and we perpetuate a downward spiral of silence to avoid further social isolation (Kennamer, 1990).

The authors refer to this phenomenon as part of the “quiescent” form of employee silence as compared to the following (also from page 19) , which is a form of “acquiescent” employee silence:

Acquiescence is a deeper state of silence than quiescence. It requires more assistance or provocation to be broken than does quiescence. Acquiescent employees are less conscious of their silence and are less ready or willing to change than their quiescent counterparts. Like quiescence, it is uncomfortable but its motivational capacity is weaker. People in deep acquiescence have given up hope of improvement and become more or less oblivious to the importance of external events that may provide grounds for hope and a possibility for amelioration. It takes a lot more to motivate them into action (such as expressing
voice) than it does to motivate a quiescent employee to speak out or complain.

Then place these two types of employees within the organizational context described on page 16:

Conducting empirical studies of individuals across several organizations at the same time allows researchers to identify influences from organizational factors (Rousseau & House, 1994). Findings from Harlos’ (1999) study revealed both structural and procedural correlates of unjust cultures. Structural correlates included ambiguous hierarchies of authority (i.e. unclear reporting structures; Weber, 1947), high centralization (i.e. decision-making authority placed at the top of the organizational hierarchy; Pugh, Hickson, Hinings & Turner, 1968), and low formalization (i.e. minimal standardization of jobs and their protocols; Pugh et al., 1968), whereas procedural correlates included authoritarian management styles, poor communication, poorly-conducted performance reviews, and haphazard decision-making (consistent with the concept of organized anarchy; Cohen, March & Olsen, 1972).

In a related vein, Morrison and Milliken (2000) defined a climate of silence as any organizational context that is “… characterized by two shared beliefs: (a) that speaking up about problems in the organization is not worth the effort, and (b) that voicing one’s opinions and concerns is dangerous.” They identify a complex array of organizational and contextual factors that may create and foster climates of silence. These factors, including patterns of organizational policies and structures, demographic characteristics, belief structures of top management teams, and processes of collective sense-making and communication, are incorporated in a model explaining how lower-level employees become disillusioned and/or fearful about speaking out.

Finally, the concluding paragraph (from page 33)-

We also hope that the theory introduced here will challenge managers to reject simplistic assumptions that employees’ silence implies endorsement of organizational events; quiet employees are not necessarily content. Indeed, the soldiers’ stories and the academic literatures reviewed here suggest that deafening silences in organizations can occur just before storms break.

I’m not saying that library culture is one in which employees remain silent in the face of routine harassment, abuse, or mistreatment. What I am saying is that library culture–librarian work culture–takes a cue from the layperson’s stereotypical view of the library as place–a carefully maintained environment of silence. Is there anyone reading this post who cannot see a correlation between the passages I’ve highlighted and the library environment in which they work?

When it comes to the stereotype of the library itself as silent, there are those who wish it were accurate in every case. They want the library as place to be a sanctuary for quiet study, reflection, and solitude. Then there are those who want the library to be vibrant, alive, noisy, and filled with life. Does this difference of opinion extend to views about the library as workplace? Are there those who believe that silence is golden and that the squeaky wheel should not get the grease? What about when we extend this belief beyond our individual organizations to the profession as a whole?

You don’t have to answer. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. But you’re not under arrest. You won’t go to jail for speaking out.

You may get the silent treatment, though. There is often power in silence.