Or maybe people have forgotten how to disagree with each other respectfully, having become most at home interacting with devices, anyway, so we avoid even mildly confrontational conversations?

Whatever the reasons, it’s not great news for the state of American innovation that more than a third of its workers don’t feel empowered to speak freely. Diverse opinions and polite debate are known to help groups slow down and make thoughtful decisions. Being able to disagree with civility is also the only way to cut through the amount of false information or speculation passed off as fact in company conversations, says John Petrocelli, an associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University. When friends get together to work on a project, they’re often too focused on enriching their relationships to question each other. That sets the conditions for bullshit to flourish, he says.

Speaking of which, in their new book It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the cofounders of Basecamp, call out “My door is only open” policies, dismissing them as nonsense. That phrase is a “cop-out, not an invitation,” they write. It only comes in handy after a fiasco, so the boss can ask, “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”

In reality, they say, employees aren’t going to go wander over to their manager’s desk, never mind the CEO’s office, to talk about something that’s bothering them. Managements experts say people are too afraid to be seen as complainers and often don’t believe the effort will make a difference. “If the boss really wants to know what’s going on, the answer is embarrassingly obvious: They have to ask!” the Basecamp founders argue, adding, “Not vague self-congratulatory bullshit questions, like ‘What can we do even better?’ But the hard ones like ‘What’s something nobody dares to talk about?’ Or ‘Are you afraid of anything at work?'”

Managers also might want to be mindful that women will not volunteer their criticisms as often as men, and that women speak less when they’re outnumbered by their male colleagues—though it’s important to recognize that many men need some coaxing to speak their minds, too.

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