When silence hurts

Sidharth Birla | Updated on October 15, 2019 Published on October 15, 2019

Is there a business-society communication gap?

To put the thoughts here in context, recall that we often comment on the fragile triangle of trust between government, business and society, and the healthy balance essential for the national economy. To achieve this perhaps calls for intensive efforts under the circumstances.

The past many months have seen — with startling regularity — media space flooded with stories on delinquencies and aberrations in business and economic matters and accompanying stakeholder distress. Of course, media reports or formal communiques convey limited information; but broad pictures do get laid out on the basis of which general opinions on fair or foul get formed.

To say that some reported incidents have shaken even tough and experienced minds, would be an understatement. But it is also reasonable and equitable to say that — though almost every story can be painted as delinquent — every event is not criminal in nature or intent; there is a huge share of crises caused by business problems, simply poor decisions and governance lapses.

These latter elements have procedural, contractual and regulatory solutions and we should allow appropriate mature conclusions to emerge quickly and without much ado. No responsible businessman even considers defending delinquency. There has been enough said from all levels that mistakes should not, and do not amount to criminality. There is also enough said in conferences, meetings and indoors that those guilty must be swiftly punished and those not guilty should be just as swiftly discharged. The eco-system has to inspire greater confidence and must establish safeguards against unwarranted personal or reputational ruin.

However, perhaps it could be of value to introspect if the voices of business and representative bodies have effectively conveyed its set of core views — and its intolerance of wrongful behaviour by businessmen — to society at large with adequate seriousness, clarity and frequency. If society does not correctly perceive that this is the inherent attitude of business, it may well identify businesses just with self-serving pleas and/or cheerleading.

Fragile trust will be further compromised. It is not anyone’s place to suggest that business is not communicating its position — the suggestion is simply to introspect if it is satisfactory in quantity and substance. Silence can sometimes be golden. It’s probably the best thing when a debate is headed nowhere or one has incomplete information, or there is only something unkind to say. But silence is not always golden, as holding back can also ruin relationships with the larger eco-system.

In some situations silence hurts others — for example, when someone needs your reinforcement and if you can do so by taking a principled stand. If one knows with reasonable certainty that someone has been wronged but sits quietly, the silence can be misconstrued as one’s consent.

In closing it is hard to ignore some nostalgic music moments. The timeless words of Simon & Garfunkel played quite by chance in the background:

And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people maybe more

People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share

And no one dared, disturb the sound of silence

The writer is an entrepreneur and a past President of FICCI. The views are personal.

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Published on October 15, 2019
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