By its very nature, hierarchy dramatically reduces the desire of those lower down to speak up and those higher up to listen. In many organisations, it is an essential survival strategy to inflate the degree to which you agree with your superiors. Managers reinforce this behaviour by unconsciously, looking for an endorsement of their views, rather than honest questioning or critical feedback. The danger with flattery is that it cuts them off from the facts. Under these circumstances, it is not hard to understand that feedback can become a risky business. Despite the proven benefits of speaking up, employees often remain silent out of a combination of fear, respect and even childlike admiration for the person in power.
The world of work is littered with organisations—NASA’s Discovery Space Shuttle explosion, South Yorkshire Police’s Hillsborough football disaster, Enron’s accounting scandals, Lehman Brothers’ investment strategy, the BP oil spill and Volkswagen TDI—that drove themselves and their surroundings, into the ground, because team members and peers did not feel safe to challenge their misguided or corrupt leaders. While there has been a growing trend toward more participative work relationships and practices, feedback is still something that usually happens from the top down: from the powerful to the powerless.