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.
At The Latimer Group, we believe that great communication skills can change the world. We transform people and organizations with simple, repeatable techniques and mindsets. We teach persuasive communication skills through an integrated platform of corporate training, coaching, and eLearning. To learn more about how we can transform your organization, e-mail us at info@TheLatimerGroup.com
Looking for more from The Latimer Group?