Words That Are Designed to Silence
Strong leaders make unpopular decisions, give tough feedback, and engage in highly direct speech when necessary. They don’t duck what they believe is the best course of action because others may not like them or disagree with their actions.
At the same time, they encourage others to push back respectfully. They value the ability for everyone to debate and disagree with a leader’s actions and choices, knowing it is paramount for creating an open and inclusive workplace where all performance can be discussed objectively and candidly.
Occasionally, a team member who can’t or prefers not to win the argument or exert influence based on logic, evidence, or persuasive appeal will resort to labeling a leader or colleague as a means to denigrate their credibility and to curtail their speech. They know if they can get someone to wear a derogatory label, even temporarily, the effect will be to silence or dull their advocacy and put them on the defensive.
When someone wants to chill your speech and place you in the jail cell of stereotypes, all they have to do is label you with a derogatory identity. Calling someone a bigot, racist, misogynist, antisemite, sexist, or homophobe, among many other identity labels, stigmatizes the person and makes them defend themselves. This has the intended effect of chilling their speech, at least temporarily, and diminishing their credibility.
Just as good leaders work hard to create a workplace environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their honest views, they also work to confront and eliminate the use of identity labels of any kind and in any direction.
Categorizing or labeling behavior and decisions for what they represent is fair and reasonable. This is how team members can confront biases that impact their well-being. But labeling others with identities that silence or stigmatize them is not.
Strong leaders reject labels and refuse to wear them. And they ask others to reject them, as well. They admonish people who use them and set a standard that such stamps of disapproval have no place within the organization. They insist that team members maintain a focus on the behaviors of others and not on broad characterizations. When team members understand that disparaging others through negative identifications is unacceptable behavior, they naturally return to arguments and facts to make their views known.
Disagreements over what is acceptable and appropriate behavior in the workplace are a natural byproduct of bringing diverse viewpoints together. Working through the everyday conflicts between colleagues makes the team more cohesive. Eliminating anything that distorts the ability to discuss differences rationally and openly is critical to workplace satisfaction. Identity labels must be the first things to go.