The Silence is Louder Than Ever

I was listening in on a conference call last week, with a decent sized audience. The leader of the call was working really hard to manage the call, bring some energy to it, engage people. He had clearly spent a lot of time thinking about what he was going to say. His message was positive, enthusiastic, collaborative and complementary. And then, when he invited comments or questions, no one said a word. Nothing. Painful.

We have all been there. We have all led that conference call, when we present our idea, proposal, agenda item or comments. We finish. We ask for questions, comments, or input. And… we… get… nothing. Crickets. No one has anything to say or ask.

Now sometimes that silence might make us happy! Perhaps we want to sneak out of the meeting unscathed, and are happy to fly below the radar. But most of the time, we are actively seeking input from our audience. And when we hope for engagement and we get silence, that silence is confusing. It is lonely. In many cases it is deflating.

Silence is hard to interpret. Does the silence mean we did a great job, covered it, and there are no questions? Does it mean what we said was totally obvious and not valuable? Does it mean there is some skepticism? That no one cares? Silence can mean many possible things. Silence is hard to interpret. Shakespeare taught us that.

Whenever I am teaching a workshop, and the topic of managing conference calls comes up, I always ask what people find most challenging. And one of the things that always gets mentioned, believe it or not, is silence. It comes up every time. People just don’t know what to do with the silence, or how to interpret it. It is intimidating.

And that was under normal circumstances.

Now, we are living in abnormal circumstances, with heightened anxiety. Which means we have to bring heightened sensitivity to our work relationships, because nothing is normal. On that call last week, I know the person who was leading the call. And afterwards, we spoke and almost immediately he asked me how he should have interpreted the silence. We didn’t discuss it long, but it came up immediately. He had noticed it. And he actually used the word “deflated.”

This is a simple point today… my colleagues and I spend a lot of time helping you manage your words, and their impact. But today, I am helping you manage your silence, and its impact. Silence is powerful. Use it wisely. If you like something someone says, say so. Silence is not affirmation. Affirmation requires words, or a reaction of some kind. And anything you can do to help people feel connected and validated during a time of great anxiety is a good thing to do.

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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4 responses to “The Silence is Louder Than Ever”

  1. Derick says:

    Dean: Still following your blogs, your mail, back there somewhere like following your stern on a spinnaker leg, always present, but never catching up. Then ever so often, like rarely, I comment. Your note on silence was terrific! George Steiner once said “The silence shrieks”. Borderline profound, nice going. Derick Nicholas

  2. Elia Dragone says:


    I read your blog and they are truly refreshing…
    Indeed silence often speaks louder than words and sometimes it can be deafening.

    Having said that, I would like to make an analogy with music. To the novice, pauses and rests may appear to be meaningless because
    after all the notes and chords define the music but the brain interprets those notes as a melody because of the pauses otherwise
    it would be utter cacophony. The brain somehow is able to use those pauses to organize the sequences and musical patterns.

    So perhaps, if we are able to focus on creating an engaging environment with our audience ahead of time, then it might be easier
    to accurately interpret the silence. Perhaps then, it might have a more practical meaning instead of leaving us bewildered and unable to discern.

    Silence indeed is able to communicate something that outside of its context may be meaningless.

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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.