“We have two ears and only one mouth for a reason.” Everyone’s heard this old bromide and ones like it. From it, you’d think that silence is one of the best things since sliced bread!

Yet silence often does more to undermine the workplace than you might realize. Indeed, silence may not be so golden, after all.

Silence as a Weapon

Seemingly, one of the most effective time- and priority-management techniques employed by direct reports is the Keeping the Boss Silent technique. It starts innocuously enough – you, the Boss, and an employee are having a pleasant conversation. But your staffer just keeps talking and talking with filibuster-like fervor. If you had a point to make, you’ve long forgotten it. And that assignment you had to give? It’ll have to wait because you’re now running late to your next meeting.

Another technique that employees often use can be called Closed for Business. Instead of them keeping YOU silent, they keep silent THEMSELVES, using a two-step process.

  • Step One is called Hiding because if you, the boss, can’t find them, then you can’t assign any more work to them. Once found, though, Step Two kicks in.
  • Step Two is the Silent Treatment, where, once found, the person seemingly listens to what you’re saying – and will even offer an occasional “uh-huh,” or “okay,” to keep you going – but in reality, they’ll really be looking out the window, thinking about something else entirely, or just taking an short open-eyed catnap.

Employees aren’t the only ones who leverage the control through silence, though.

  • Interviewers use prolonged silences as a form of behavioral Stress Test for leading candidates.
  • Coworkers who’ll let you run the show, reserving the right to later claim they had no input should things go wrong
  • Salespeople who won’t correct your misunderstanding of their product’s limitations
  • Customers who will just stare at you when you’re negotiating the price
  • And who hasn’t had a boss who used silence as Feigned Support for a project or program while tossing it into the “Not Now, Not Ever” bin?

A Look in the Mirror

It’s easy to see in others, but how might YOU be manipulating the silence?

  • Who don’t you let talk that maybe you should?
  • Who are YOU hiding from and why?
  • Who’s talking to you even though you’re not really listening?
  • Who might you be misleading or allowing to be misled?

Answering these questions – and questions like them – as honestly and openly as you can is the first step understanding your “unintended” impact … and refining your unwanted” behaviors.

Original Source: GottaGettaCoach! newsletter –  2q2003.

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