Tacit Approval: Don’t you dare give it!

Tacit approval has come up in my coaching discussions with managers three times over the last week, and this will not be a strike-out for us! Let’s play ball…

What is it?

Let’s say you are the manager. Tacit approval happens when:

a) a direct-report of yours does something wrong
b) you become aware of it
c) that direct-report and/or others within your workplace are aware of both a) and b)
d) you do nothing about it and let it slide

As a result, you have given tacit approval for that wrong which was committed.

Your silent message to everyone else can be interpreted in several different ways, and none of them are good.

The possibilities?

You don’t care.
You have bigger fish to fry, and small mistakes are okay.
That’s a small mistake, so none of us need to care about it.
There is nothing to learn from that mistake anyway.
The work involved wasn’t really important. In fact, if you stop doing it totally I won’t care about that either.
It’s okay to mess up. Just don’t get caught.
If you catch wind of a wrong you’ll look the other way, so we all can see how much we can get away with.
You’re chicken. That employee intimidates you.
You play favorites. That employee is never corrected.
You settle for less: You’re a shady deal-maker who will accept lesser-quality performance (you don’t want to upset the apple cart, because 80% of what that direct-report does is more right than wrong).
You’re green and lacking confidence, and you’re avoiding the situation because you don’t know what to do, or how to approach finding a solution.
You know what to do, but you’re not going to bother. Training, coaching and mentoring isn’t worth your attentions.
You’re lazy or clueless, and hoping that no one else knows about it.
You think that direct-report knowing that you know is enough, and they will self-correct. (You are wrong.)

Now, I seriously doubt you really think any of those things (and if you do, get a different job, for management is not for you). However you better be aware that those thoughts running rampant through your workplace are doing even more damage —for you can bet people are talking about it. Your reputation as a manager is getting shredded.

Is that what you really want?

I didn’t think so.

Every discipline can be turned into a teachable moment.

It is as simple as a conversation which unemotionally states, “I know what happened. Let’s talk about it.” Then listen, and let the other person lead where the conversation has to go. End the conversation with an agreement where they fix their own problem and you are not taking on any clean-up they can handle within their own sphere of influence, ability and capacity.

Look for that teachable moment and never, ever shy away from disciplinary discussions which need to happen. Alaka‘i managers enjoy the teaching and the coaching, and even the problem-solving. They enjoy creating a workplace environment where people can achieve their very best, and grow to BE their best, and there is absolutely no place in healthy workplace cultures for tacit approval.

Photo Credit: No Tolerance (134/365) by Icky Pic on Flickr

Suggested follow-up reading, newly written in 2010:

  • What Your Big Ideas Do Best: Our big ideas don’t have to change the world. They just have to move it along.
  • Weekend Project: Hō‘imi your Trusted System: What are the differences between a trusted system, conducive to stress-free performance, and everything else?
  • Feeling Good Isn’t the Same as Feeling Strong: Acceptable behavior delivers  maintenance-level energy to a work culture, whereasaccomplished behavior delivers the  higher-level energy which makes that work culture vibrant and dynamic: Within a workplace, it is the high energy of accomplished behavior which delivers true performance excitement and growth. People stop thinking  work and begin thinkinglegacy.


  1. says

    Great picture to go with the article. Tacit approval really is a big one, and it’s the one that spreads so bad and so impacts working relationships. If I ignore it when Mongo comes in late but don’t ignore it when Roy does does this mean I’m playing favorites with Mongo or discriminating against Roy? Ugh… it’s a horrible can of worms and I can’t tell that it ever ends well for anybody. It’s messy and makes more work than it avoids in the long term. Nice article.
    .-= ´s last blog ..Microsoft loves me” they really do! =-.

    • Rosa Say says

      I loved the picture too Rich, seemed so perfect!

      Managers will hesitate at times fearing their words will get them in more trouble than their silence will, and I really disagree, for as you have described, we leave way too much up to error or assumption-riddled interpretation. Let’s face it: both can be messy, but trying to articulate necessary discipline well is worth the effort (and the practice!)

      Thank you for commenting Rich.

  2. says

    Avoiding confrontation is a lose-lose in so many ways. I’ve been in situations where a manager avoided discussing perceived problems with a subordinate for so long that the frustration was raised to the point of threatening the persons job – meanwhile the subordinate had no idea they were ticking folks off. Dealt with quickly and fairly, most trouble can be simple learning moments instead of times of drama as you say.

    • Rosa Say says

      Aloha Fred, thank you for sharing that story. It is fairly common, and I’ll bet there are several readers nodding their heads right now in a recollection of some kind!

      Confrontation is hard for all of us, but there is always a respectful, to the point, helpful way to approach it. And I so love your final thought, that “most trouble can be simple learning moments instead of times of drama.”