What Your Lack of Response Tells Others

ostrichMost of us think saying nothing is an acceptable and easy response to challenging situations. The ole ostrich-in-the-sand approach.  We hide out. We avoid, ignore and figure in time it will all go away. At the very least the other party will forget about things.

After doing personal coaching for 13 years, it’s clear to me this is not the case. No response, does not equal no problem. The issue doesn’t’ go away just because we aren’t facing it. In fact, more often than not, ignoring the issue leads to other problems.

We may THINK to ourselves, “I’m not saying anything. That will be safe.” But our silence communicates volumes anyway. It leaves things open to the interpretation of others, and, without our input. They decide on their own what our lack of response means. The meaning they give it is rarely what we intend.

Here are some of the conclusions that are often drawn by our silence:

  1. “You don’t care.”  –  If you did care, you would speak up and express your feelings.  Or at the least you would deal with the situation. Most of us interpret silence as indifference.
  2. “I’m not important.”  –   Someone waiting to hear your response might conclude, “I’m not important to you.” After all, in the midst of a misunderstanding or conflict, it would seem if I were important, you would do or say something.
  3. “Things are fine the way they are.” –  Sometimes when no response comes, we decide it means things are fine as is. Nothing needs to be done.
  4. “Do what you want.”  –  This is a convenient conclusion to draw. It allows us to do exactly what we want. After all, we haven’t heard from the other party (you), so obviously it doesn’t matter.  Without your input, we are free to decide what to do next. And considering there is a conflict, we love giving ourselves permission to do what we want.
  5. “It’s over.” –  Depending on the actual situation, sometimes we interpret silence to mean the relationship, friendship, or connection is over. That conclusion sets an entirely new set of circumstances in motion.
  6. “You don’t want to talk to me (or about it).” –  In either case, drawing this conclusion makes the other party completely reluctant to initiate a conversation. The gap widens. The silence continues.

Just because nothing is said, doesn’t mean no conclusions are drawn. Silence in the midst of an issue, argument, misunderstanding or crucial conversation only leads to more resentment and a greater distance to bridge for resolution.

breaking the silence

Are you an avoider? In the midst of a difficult conversation do you simply shut down and stop talking? Do you leave an issue hanging, never sharing your thoughts and questions? If so, remind yourself others will draw their own conclusions and most likely they will not be what you intend.

Want to resolve the issue? Want to affect the outcome? Speak up using The Way to Say It and allow yourself and the other party to talk it through and move on, whether that moving on means resolution, understanding, or just letting go. In any case, the wondering ends and there is clarity.

Want to learn more possibilities about what your silence is saying? Check out these links:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithwalkers/2013/02/silence-speaks-what-you-say-when-you-say-nothing-at-all/

http://silenttreatmentblog.com/

 

Comments

  1. I guess we are particularly bad about this in California. My friends and family who have moved here from the East Coast refer to the lack of response, as the “California No.”

    • Bill, I believe you are speaking of the no answer to an invite? Not RSVP’ing…it seems it is more common by the day. As an east coaster myself, I find that California No, hard to get used to.

  2. Yup, its particularly common with invitations, but the phenomenon seems to be spreading to business proposals, sales presentations, requests for assistance, and other types of discussions as well. “We will discuss it, and get back with you” followed by the sound of crickets!