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Silence is no longer golden. When unchecked behaviour is part of the power problem

Rare Birds x KINSPACE Series - Article 2

Rare Birds x KINSPACE Series - Article 2

KINSPACE SERIES PART 2: 2020 left us licking the wounds of fear, isolation, and social distancing. Following the year that stopped the world in its tracks and gave birth to the term ‘unprecedented times’, this series explores how we might shape a new normal in the workplace. Specifically rethinking how we approach power dynamics and repairing unhealthy culture and practices. Sarah Liyanage-Denney, founder of KINSPACE and Rare Birds mentor shares her insights.

“Silence. Evil thrives in silence. Behaviour unspoken, behaviour ignored, is behaviour endorsed.”
Grace Tame – 2021 Australian of the Year

Speaking in the aftermath of the Brittany Higgins sexual assault allegations, Tames’ statement focuses in on what is prevalent across so many ‘power over’ cultures within our communities.


Behaviours unspoken.

On ABC’s Q+A recently Katie Allen (Liberal member for Higgins) commented on the culture of silence and alleged crime cover up that is centred on Higgins’ case.

Fellow panellist Clare O’Neil, (Shadow Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services), stated Brittany was actively encouraged by members of government not to go to police, feeling like she had to choose between her job or pursuing justice. She chose justice.

Katie interjected, “She didn’t say she was told to, she said she felt like that – it’s different, it’s incorrect.”

Is this different?

Is it incorrect?

Herein lies a big part of the problem in shifting power dynamics. Not explicitly understanding when something is implied.

It’s time we acknowledge the role we each play in shifting the culture – and it starts with learning the skill of hearing what is meant, not what is said.

Power-over cultures often breed attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, where patterns of coercive control, harassment, sexual violence, thrive. But individually, we can show courage to call out bad behaviour, and when faced with the situation ourselves, learn the language to clearly articulate what is going on.

Many leaders are crying out for fool proof step-by-step approaches to effectively respond to workplace challenges and reports of intimidation, exclusion, bias, harassment and sexual violence. So what’s stopping them?

Do they fear exposure in the public forum?

Are they willing to take full accountability for the actions of their staff, even if it means legal or criminal responsibility?

How might they de-risk?

Many simply want practical tips to help them call out bad behaviour and respond to complaints. These culture shifts require a two-pronged approach to respond to and prevent it occurring.

Here a few we prepared earlier.

These 3 empathic leadership traits are foundational in applying the art of hearing what is meant, not what is said.

  • Cognitive empathy: We’re able to recognise the emotional state of another person in the moment and are able to connect with them.
  • Emotional empathy: We demonstrate humility, decency, a curious tone of voice and take a coaching approach to engage and share those emotions with another person.
  • Compassionate empathy: We take appropriate action to support the other person – knowing how to respond with a balance of care and detachment.

“The worst distance between two people is misunderstanding.”

When listening, the aim is not to change the speaker’s language, but to better understand what is meant vs said, learning how to respond guilt free and maintain respectful boundaries.

Here are six steps to effective listening for sharper ears and even sharper understanding:

  1. Pay attention: Many times, this means saying nothing. Allow space before you respond to ensure they’ve finished, listening from a place of respect.
  2. Reserve judgement: Keep an open mind to new ideas, perspectives and possibilities. Suspend judgement for the sake of a strong opinion.
  3. Reflect patiently: Don’t assume you’ve heard correctly or as intended. Mirror the information by paraphrasing back to the speaker or help label their emotion.
  4. Clarify slowly: Ask questions on unclear topics such as, “Let me see if I’m clear. Do you mean …?” Effective listening takes an ‘asking not telling’ approach.
  5. Summarise clearly: Repeat key themes as this will help both parties to be clear on expectations. This could sound like “Let me check my understanding …”
  6. Share openly: Once you’ve understood the speaker, you can begin to introduce your ideas, feelings and suggestions. From this point, problem solving can begin.

Where to from here?

“I hadn’t considered the impact subtle digs would have on an individual and their self-worth and sense of belonging to the team.”
Senior leader in an organisation with 80,000 employees.

It’s time our nervous laughter in the face of microaggressions, inappropriate remarks, and subtle jibes were a thing of the past.

But we can only do that once we’ve addressed ours.

We uncover this in the next and last article of the series; understanding the cause that creates the effect of why we do what we do.

It takes one person to shift the dynamic. Are you ready to get exploring?

*If this conversation raises issues for you – contact 1800RESPECT or Lifeline

In the spirit of effective listening, we welcome you to share insights and ask questions – comment below or reach out to sarah@kinspace.co and she will share with the KINSPACE community

You’re invited to join Sarah and Teresa from KINSPACE for an important discussion:
How to Shift Power Dynamics: a Practical Approach to Diversity in the Workplace
Live Webinar Thursday, July 22, 2021 · 12:30 PM AEST

Register HERE for your free ticket. Even if you can’t attend the live event, you will receive a recording if you register.

Event attendees are requested to fill out this form ahead of the event. Thank you.