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Edition 43 – Sometimes, You Say a Lot by Saying Nothing

From time to time, someone might not do the right thing by you. An employee oversteps the mark. A client is rude, demanding or unreasonable. Perhaps someone gives you feedback that you did not invite. How do you react to each of those events?

I have a saying that sometimes you say a lot by saying nothing. In my opinion, silence is understated as an effective tool in business and management communication. We live in an age where we are bombarded with noise in all its forms – opinion, conversation, phones, emails. Silence, on the other hand, seems to have fallen out of favour.

Let me explain, by use of an example, what I mean by “sometimes you say a lot by saying nothing”.

If someone has slighted you, you have two options:

Option 1

  1. You can choose to get into an argument.
  2. You can react immediately to what has happened.
  3. You can defend your position.
  4. You can protect your pride.
  5. In the process, you may say something that could may alleviate the situation, or may inflame it.
  6. What you say will depend on the situation, the relationship you have with the other person and what else is going on in your life at that time.

Option 2

  1. You can choose to say nothing.
  2. By saying nothing, you may elevate yourself above the argument.
  3. You have the other person guessing.
  4. By them guessing, they question themselves.
  5. By questioning themselves, they start to draw their own conclusions.
  6. Eventually, they may ask you the question as to what happened.
  7. You can then choose to enter into the discussion, with a clear mind and a firm viewpoint.
    But take note:
    A. Often, you won’t be asked.
    B. Always maintain dignity.

As a management tool, I’ve used this to great effect over the years. I’ve worked with hundreds of staff, managers, clients and colleagues. I was formerly of the school of Option 1 – load up my cannon with the best form of ammunition and fire away. Sometimes aimlessly. Sometimes at the wrong enemy. Often with adverse consequences.

When I started teaching myself about the effectiveness of silence, I found the reaction was different for me on three fronts:

  1. I felt less stressed about the situation, the result and the aftermath.
  2. The situation would either diffuse or be resolved much faster as a result of not engaging in turf warfare.
  3. It helped to improve the relationships with the people I was engaging with.

So, next time something happens, and your usual first reaction is to jump in and offer a retort, think whether sometimes you say a lot by saying nothing.

This Week’s Tip

We all need silence to help us think, create, ponder and develop. By not reacting to every situation, immediately, we develop the art of patience and perspective, both effective business management tools.