In today’s aggressive and assertive society, the perception is, the more one can speak, the better. After all, words spoken with passion and emotions can change the world. However, we know that words spoken out of anger and without consideration can cause harm. We have all been at both the giving and receiving end of words that are hurtful and destructive. Even if we try to apologise later on, the damage is done. In the workplace, that damage can have a lasting impact on your credibility and career progression.
I firmly believe that there is a time and place where we do need to respond and there is also situations where silence is your most powerful response tool. There are 3 situations where silence is the best policy:
- Emotionally charge situation. Where there is a highly volatile situation, with various emotions rearing it’s ugly head, the mind is no longer capable of listening. No matter how good the series of facts are give, the ability to listen and process the information is not there. Adrenalin takes over and the body responses with fight or flight response and logical thinking goes out the window. In order to defuse the situation, the best course of action is to be silent and let the silence cause a natural time out. Silence can be deafening when used appropriately.
- No progress in a discussion due to pride or stubbornness. There are times in meetings when we face roadblocks due to one or two people who just would not budge or compromise. This could be due to many reasons. However, when the root reason is due to pride, a different approach is required. There is no point to pile on more information or facts to convince someone who is NOT open to listening. Take the silence approach and start to listen to what is said. We can’t listen and talk at the same time. Let the silence open up a different atmosphere and explore what the outcome is.
- Bring out the geniuses from “quiet” or “introvert”. There are some amazing ideas and thoughts from people who are perceived as introverts. To get them to share those ideas might be hard if you have a group of people who just love to talk. Most people are uncomfortable with silence and would jump in to fill it especially the extroverts however, some people just need that “silent seconds” in order to speak up. Give them the opportunity to do so. I have led many groups and know how hard it is to keep those over sharers from dominating a discussion, but there is great benefit of keeping quiet, just enough for the introverts to get their courage and voices going.
There is great wisdom in knowing when to speak up and when to stay silent. Silence can be more powerful than you think if you apply it appropriately. Just remember, you can’t take back angry, negative, hurtful and destructive words but you can always fill the silence later with positive and encouraging words when you have calmed down. Thinking through a tough situation and working out the best approach and what to say will save you in the long run.
Just like the pen is mightier than the sword, silence can be deafening.