Sometimes silence is golden – movie theaters, wilderness sunsets, and that moment when you stop in the middle of a ski run to enjoy the view.

Other times, not so much…

2009 was such a difficult year for so many organizations. We were all pushed to focus, prune, and make tough decisions – often to just stay in the game. Some thrived, but many organizations and leaders privately sighed with relief to hold steady, to avoid free-fall.

Don’t confuse this with feeling satisfied or successful – leaders are incurably goal-oriented and success-addicted. I think a lot of them look back at 2009 with ambivalence – relieved to still be standing but pretty grumpy about the absolute results.

That ambivalence can make it easy to ignore 2009, stick it in the file drawer (or the trash can), and move on. Here’s one reason that might not be the best idea.

In the middle of a very challenging year, many members of the organization have worked very hard in trying circumstances to help keep the organization going. They naturally feel conflicted about the year too – they recognize that the quantitative results may not compare favorably with prior years. But they also feel (often rightly) that they’ve put in a solid performance. Silence from leaders often confuses and discourages them.

What can leaders do instead of remaining silent? Sometimes we don’t have the typical monetary tools at our disposal, but we can still acknowledge great efforts, solid performances, and notable results.

Circumstances will dictate whether that acknowledgement is private or public, tangible or intangible, symbolic or monetary. But even the absence of normal reward mechanisms has a useful side-effect: it forces leaders to be creative and perhaps put more of themselves into the recognition effort. This alone (as long as the acknowledgement is seen as genuine) will often raise the connection and loyalty felt by team members – and once the employment market perks up, that loyalty will be important to keeping the best people.

There’s an old adage that bears repeating. “In the absence of information, people make up their own stories – and they’re usually the negative stories.” Leave silence for the sunset. Feedback time is a time to make some noise.