Interpreting the Silence: “Why Haven’t They Gotten Back to Me?”


Have you ever written or sent something to a friend or a colleague, perhaps something important, that you worked hard on, and then been surprised when no prompt response came? It is hard in this situation to know what to think, or how to feel. Did I say something wrong? Did they not like it? Why aren’t they responding quickly? This is important!

Silence from another human being can be very confusing. We are expecting a response to something we said or wrote, and then we don’t get one. We wait… and wait… and wait. Our mind then often becomes a very complicated, loud place. Because our mind tries to fill, or even worse, interpret the silence. And that’s when we make things hard on ourselves… far harder than they have to be.

Silence can mean many things. If someone does not respond to you in the time frame you expect, it may mean that they have not read it yet, or have not listened to your voice mail. It may mean they are busy on something else – their child, something at work, exercise. It may mean they have seen it, but want more time to respond, and will wait until they can focus on it. It may mean they are upset or annoyed or bothered in some way. Silence may mean a lot of different things.

In our business society, a lot of effort is spent crafting messages, getting to the point quickly, being clear, anticipating questions. We work hard to know our audience and be ready for any response. “Well, if they say this, we’ll say that…” But we rarely plan out how we will react or feel about the response that has not yet come. The inherent silence from the lack of a response is a void, and often in our eagerness and excitement and ambition, our minds force us to want to fill that void with something. So we interpret.

But it is in the interpretation when we often create more problem or stress for ourselves than is necessary. I’ve made this mistake many times myself. If it is something important to me, I begin to build an expectation of a response. And when my expectations are not met, I often create scenarios, that are often completely wrong.

The point here today is that interpreting silence is hard. And unless you are absolutely certain what the silence means, then you can create unnecessary stress trying to figure out what it means. Better to simply move on to something else, try to avoid focusing on what something might mean, and instead spend the energy on other things.

There are so many things in the modern business world that can cause legitimate distraction or stress. So much so that it is better not to add additional stress trying to interpret something that is nearly impossible to interpret.

Have a great day.

At The Latimer Group, our individual Coaching services are highly customized and designed to help you achieve your specific goals. Typical engagements focus on developing skill sets in Leadership Communications, Public Speaking, and Executive-Level Business Presentations. To learn more, e-mail us at

Photo by Vinoth Chandar adapted under the following license.


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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.