The Toxicity of Silence
In crisis, silence comes in many colors and in two varieties: intentional and cultural. All strategies of silence have the same outcome: toxic shock to the perpetrator. Silence strategies are ethical impediments to finding the truth. Silence and denial, which generally go together, quickly fuel relentless attacks by outside forces to pierce the veil of secrecy and bring down the perpetrator. There are at least five environments where cultures of silence are often the first response to trouble, disaster, embarrassment, or threat of uncomfortable disclosures.
- The Blue Wall: Perhaps the strongest culture of silence, the police and all of law enforcement. Don't expect much change to the blue wall anytime soon. Prosecutorial misconduct is getting more attention and even some action but the behaviors continue.
- The White Wall: When physicians and medical personnel make mistakes, the medical community's first reaction is to rally around each other to protect against an "uninformed public" and a sensationalizing media. The medial professional's defense, "we save lives," is a powerful deflecting tool for controlling information which is getting less effective every year.
- The Green Wall: This is the code of silence among military professionals whose chosen profession is, when necessary and without reserve, to lay down their lives for the protection of their country and the deterrence of hostile forces. The tendency is to look at civilians as unworthy of respect and unwelcome intruders since they have not submitted themselves to the "tests of war." The U.S. military has its own rules, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and its own court system.
- The Stone Wall: The practice of prolonged denial of events to delay consequences, or in the hopes that someone else's bad news will come along and eclipse the current situation. This approach is, of course, transparently obvious to everyone, except the perpetrator. It generally fails.
- The Editorial Wall: This is the news media's tendency to take offense and lash out at any and all critics and criticism. After all, they too are saving the world from something every day. Without credible independent oversight, this institution has the most powerful code of silence in our society. If the media doesn't talk about "it", "it" does not exist.
Codes of Silence do get broken, along with careers and reputations. Codes of Silence create unnecessary victims who can irritate, retaliate, and then litigate until the perpetrator is humiliated and sometimes crushed. Overcoming or setting aside Codes of Silence is a crucial element in achieving successful crisis communication mangement.
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Labels: communication and the law, community relations, crisis communication, crisis communication strategy, crisis communications, crisis guru, crisis management, crisis response, culture change, leadership