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  • Dr Elizabeth King

How does the unsaid shape decision-making in the boardroom?

Day one at the EGOS conference drew us into a thoughtful examination of governance's contribution to the good life. The opening keynote unravelled the intriguing subject: 'The Unsaid in the Boardroom,' an area that frequently escapes scrutiny but possesses significant implications for all governance stakeholders.


The research behind this keynote, conducted by Assistant Professor Marilieke Engbers, offered practical takeaways that hold significance for all directors:


Conscious Deliberation over Automation: It is crucial to understand the silent, yet differing, assumptions about governance that subtly influence our decision-making processes. We must step away from automated reactions and towards thoughtful deliberation that considers these underlying assumptions.


Monitoring Informal Decision-Making: Sub-groups, while efficient, can also obscure the decision-making process. It is important to ensure that decisions made within these smaller committees are conscientiously monitored, ensuring transparency, and avoiding undue influence on the broader board.


Reflecting on Role Expectations: Regular introspection on role expectations can help mitigate false attribution bias and unvoiced speculations. It's particularly important to align expectations among pivotal positions like the Chair, CEO, and new directors, creating a cohesive and transparent decision-making environment.


The insights provoke a pressing question: How does the unsaid shape decision-making in the boardroom? In this context, we are reminded of the poignant words of Persian poet Rumi: "Listen to the silence, it has a lot to say." Perhaps, in our silence, we will uncover the secrets to more effective governance.


One key point of this phrase by Rumi is to emphasize the importance of mindful listening and observation in governance, particularly in relation to what is not being openly discussed or is 'silent'. The quote "Listen to the silence, it has a lot to say," implies that in paying attention to these unsaid aspects or 'silences', one might uncover valuable insights or perspectives that can inform more effective decision-making and governance practices.


From my own research and experience the development of mindful listening is a transformative journey. It requires deliberate cultivation of awareness, where we attentively observe our own biases and assumptions that can otherwise cloud perception. Fostering attention, we learn to fully immerse ourselves in conversations, giving our focus to not only the spoken words but also the unspoken cues and subtleties. We foster acceptance, which invites diverse viewpoints into the discourse, nurturing an environment where the 'unsaid' can safely emerge.


From this foundation we can understand identity's role in decisions respect and appreciate the unique perspectives each member brings, and acknowledge that distinct experiences can enrich our collective insights. We highlight interdependence, recognizing that effective decision-making emerges from a shared effort, where every voice is not only heard but valued. We also learn to discern incongruity, paying close attention to inconsistencies or elements that seem out of place as these often give clues to the 'unsaid.'


Through an amalgamation of awareness, attention, acceptance, understanding of identity and interdependence, and acknowledgment of incongruity, mindful listening can unlock deeper communication, foster an environment where nothing remains unsaid, and more effective governance can thrive.


For more on the topic of the Unsaid see section four of this paper: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/corg.12516


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