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

Have you ever written or sent something to a colleague, client or partner, perhaps something important, that you worked hard on, and really looked forward to the ensuing discussion? You really wanted to hear their thoughts or you needed an answer? And then been surprised when no prompt response came? And nothing… still nothing… no response. Have you ever felt frustrated by that? Yep… me too.

It is hard in this situation to know what to think, or how to feel. Why aren’t they responding quickly? This is important! Or not taking this seriously? Is something wrong? Am I being blown off or ignored?

Silence or a lack of response from another human being can be very confusing, especially when the topic is something that we find very important. 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 because they have a really full inbox. 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. Or, yes, it may mean they are taking it less seriously than you, or are annoyed by the topic in some way. Silence may mean a lot of different things.

My colleagues and I spend a lot of time coaching you to spend sufficient time crafting messages, getting to the point quickly, being clear, anticipating questions. We encourage our clients to work hard to know the audience and be ready for any response. “Well, if they say this, we’ll say that…” But precious few people plan out how to 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 problems or stress for ourselves than is necessary. If it is something important to us, we begin to build an expectation of a response. And when those expectations are not met, we often create scenarios that are completely wrong. Or we push harder, follow-up again, check in again too quickly or eagerly.

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 or make a conversation harder by misinterpreting things. 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.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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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.