Posted by: healingtheworkplace | March 19, 2009

Driving Fear Out of the Workplace

In 1991 Kathleen D. Ryan and Daniel Oestreich wrote a groundbreaking book called “Driving Fear Out of the Workplace”. This was the first book that described in detail how FEAR prevents people from doing their best work.

This was a book about improving quality, productivity and innovation.

Earlier in the the last century W. Edwards Demming wrote that quality is impossible where people are afraid to tell the truth.

Harvard educator Chris Argyris used the term “undiscussables” to describe,

“defensive routines people exhibit in the work environment”.

Others have referred to these “defensive routines” as issues that people are afraid to discuss. 

Even in organizations with policies to protect “whistleblowers” people are still afraid to stand up when they witness negative, unethical or criminal behavior.

I remember going to management meetings in which the “important stuff” was not discussed at the meetings but was discussed later on in hallway conversations or over coffee.

What are people not talking about? Ryan and Oestreich identified the following list of “undiscussable issues“:

  • management practice
  • co-worker performance
  • compensation and benefits
  • change
  • human resource systems
  • individual feelings
  • bad news
  • conflict
  • personal problems
  • suggestions for improvement

Think about your workplace. What is not being said? What are you not saying that should be said? How would the workplace improve if people could be honest? Why is it so difficult being honest?

70% of all the people that Ryan and Oestreich interviewed were afraid of repercussions such as:

  • loss of credibility
  • lack of career or financial advancement
  • possible damage to relationship with boss
  • loss of employment
  • rejection
  • change in job role
  • embarassment/loss of self esteem
  • job transfer or demotion

But what happens to us when we don’t speak up? We compromise our value systems and we create stress for ourselves and others. We end up working in organizations that have no soul.

Speaking up takes courage and it takes skill. Timing is important and so is support. Don’t go it alone if you can help it. Think about the consequences. Who knows, perhaps your leadership will make the difference!





  1. The cover up of the banking scandal.. the undiscussability of the undiscussables…bank bailouts…the interwining of the treasury dept and the banks, the financial corps, the bonuses–check out Black (Keating 5 famous) and his discussion with Bill Moyer

  2. How nice to see our work still recognized. Thank you so much, Lesley!

  3. […] is toxic when not used to inform and channel your choices from solid ground. “Driving Fear Out of the Workplace” talks about how fear prevents people from doing their best work. Earlier in the the last century W. […]

  4. You do a good job & write well, Lesley.

    I too would like to Follow you with my Reader but you’ve no RSS Feed.

    Did you miss seeing the comment from 2009 on your “About Page”?

    @GaryFPatton in Toronto

    • Hi Gary, thanks. I do enjoy writing. I will set up an RSS Feed this week. Blessings to you too, Lesley

      • Hi Gary, I now have an RSS feed on my blog!

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