The Risky Business of Rocking the Boat


Adam Grant wrote this very interesting article about employee voice and how important this is for organisations yet how risky for employees.

Employees speaking-up enables organisations to:

  • learn from mistakes
  • facilitate correction and prevention of (costly) errors
  • get creative ideas and new perspectives
  • increase innovation and divergent thinking
  • enhance decision quality, and
  • foster change.

A lack of Employee voice can lead to major problems and even disasters (cf. space shuttle Challenger).

And yet, speaking up and “rocking the boat” is risky business for employees as managers tend to respond to this discouraging, penalising and punishing. Moreover, research demonstrates that speaking up is negatively associated with career progression (in terms of promotions and salary growth).

Since we can only (attempt to) change ourselves…


Your behaviour can discourage employees from sharing essential information. We need to get over ourselves and listen and learn even – or perhaps especially – when this speaking up coincides with negative emotions (anger, frustration, etc.) of the messenger. Actually, these emotions are probably the reason your employees are sharing this information with you. If they were not angry or frustrated they probably would not share it (since research shows it is not good for their career). Research demonstrates that poorly communicated or even wrong solutions can improve decision making and problem solving. You are always better of when you encourage employee voice.


Your feedback is so important it needs to be heard. However, very often anger and frustration are getting in the way of the message. If you are able to read and manage your emotional state as well as the emotional state of your manager your message will be more effective.

Moreover, research demonstrates that if you are able to understand your emotional state you will more frequently share feedback as you are able to manage your fears (and other emotions). You can do this either through so-called deep acting (changing the emotions you experience) or through surface acting (changing how you are expressing your emotions). It turns out that if you do this your message will be heard (or at least there’s a better chance) and your performance evaluations will improve.

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