Communicating With Silence

silenceHow powerful is silence?  So often we rush to fill the void left when the talking ceases and there is a lull in the conversation, but is the absence of words really such a bad thing?  Why are we uncomfortable with silence?  We are so uncomfortable, at times, that we fill the noise gap by saying something we shouldn’t say.  And often we know it’s a mistake, because we then backpedal with, “I probably shouldn’t have said that” to which the response is, “Too late!  It’s already out now!”

Perhaps the silence is due to the person needing a minute to think.  Or perhaps it is purposeful and you have touched upon in unwanted topic of discussion.  Silence could also be due to the person not paying attention and not hearing the question or remark.  Another time is when the other person simply has nothing to say, either overcome with emotion or entirely spent on the subject.

When there is silence, the person expecting to hear a response looks up to see what’s ‘wrong’.  This is where the look they see, because now they are really scrutinizing the other person’s face, can speak volumes.  With the right look PLUS SILENCE, there is so much communicated.   And since the right look can really say it all, why then ruin it with words?  How about that look like your father gave you and you knew exactly what he was saying without him having to say a single word?  Or your teacher in school when you were being disruptive? Or your boss when something is wrong?

What about e-mail silence? There’s another communication channel when silence can speak volumes. When you don’t hear back from an e-mail that you think you have allowed adequate time on – what’s the message?  It can be that a) the other person is too busy to respond right away, b) the other person is simply forgetful, or c) the silence is purposeful.  Another big problem with e-mail is you actually don’t really know if the other person even received your e-mail, which explains the silence, but you don’t know it.  Email silence can be deafening.

Of course phone silence is a whole other story.  Without being able to see an accompanying look, phone silence can indicate any of a number of things – disapproval, disappointment, confusion, or uncertainty.

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: Silence is a very powerful way to communicate.  Once the power that silence has is fully recognized, it should be put to work.  But the greater tendency is to ignore that power and instead feel uncomfortable with silence.  Getting comfortable in communicating with silence is a good skill and indicates good rapport with the person whose company is enjoyed quietly.  You don’t always need words to communicate. 

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