Some silences can be more painful than others: The thank-you note that never arrives. The dinner invitation that goes unanswered. The job interview request that’s never returned. The re-order that fails to come through.
Paul Simon’s famous “The Sounds of Silence” always puts me in a melancholy mood—seeing a world of bleakness, where people fail to connect and communicate. The songwriter is definitely correct about this: Silence says meaningful things.
Have you thought what family, friends, or clients may be communicating to you with their silence? Better, have you thought how you could benefit from silence in this new year?
Few people like to wait—in a check-in line, at the doctor’s office, at the airport. Waiting—whether on communication, a decision, a deadline—produces both patience and perspective.
Any time we’re forced to wait for someone to communicate with us, we typically have ample time to reflect and replay the opening volley of the situation in our head: Was my sales proposal worded in the best way possible? Should my email have been more timely? Should I have brought the conversation up in a meeting rather than in the hallway?
Not only do we reflect on our communication method, we often think about our intentions and motives: Did the conversation sound manipulative? Does my approach to this problem sound punitive or conciliatory? Will colleagues want to help or stand in the way of resolving this issue?
If you don’t hear from a customer except when they reorder, their silence can mean that they’re very happy. They love you and your product or service, and all’s right with the world. Like the letter carrier, they come and go regularly and ring the doorbell only if and when your dog bites. In that case, silence soothes the ear. You have a good thing going.
But silence can wake you quickly if there’s enough of it—when it grows to deafening proportions. How do you know the difference between the silence of satisfaction and the silence of discontent?
Intensity and duration.
Do you recall the Emergency Alert System that blares warnings over your TV, smartphone, or other wireless devices? That high-frequency alert gradually grows louder and louder until it screeches at full volume. Then a voice finally follows to explain to listeners that had the crisis been real, they would have received instructions of where to go and what to do. Is the silence from your customer or customers growing more intense?
Ask yourself these evaluation questions: How long has it been since you’ve heard from a particular client without an explanation for the silence? When you do finally connect, is your conversation meaningful and pleasant—or vague and uncomfortable? If your clients never heard from you again, would they miss you or simply dismiss you and go elsewhere?
How long and how widespread is the silence you hear?
Do you need to turn up the volume this year?
Learn more ways to improve communication in Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically To Coach, Inspire And Get Things Done. Download an excerpt by clicking here or on the image below.