The Sound of Silence

Silence is a powerful form of communication.  A pregnant pause is defined as a pause that gives the impression that it will be followed by something significant(1), or is rich in significance or implication(2).  Using a long pause in a conversation or speech is a proven technique to engage audiences and improve their retention, but what happens when we introduce a pregnant pause in our communication cadence with our team, like delaying a town hall, or if we take too long to address new information or rumors floating around our organization? 

In general people want consistency and predictability.  Financial markets are people driven, and when there is uncertainty there is volatility.  The same is true for employees. Leaders are responsible to bring a sense of stability to their teams, and a consistent communication cadence helps this.  Even for events that are out of their control, a leader is expected to smooth the waters – that’s just part of the job.  Silence, or delaying communication does the opposite, it creates volatility. 

A long silence, or pause in communication cadence, or in addressing an issue can lead to a wide variety of interpretations and responses.  The longer the silence, the greater the expectation – good or bad.  Thoughts that will come into people’s minds are that the leader is:

  • Working on something big
  • Is happy with how things are going
  • Is trusting and empowering me/us
  • Is not engaged
  • Does not care
  • Is not happy
  • Is rejecting me/us
  • Is judging me/us

As with other forms of communication, silence is in the eye (ear) of the receiver.  That means that prolonged silence periods can have very different impacts on each person.  As soon as the silence lasts long enough, the receiver will begin to fill the void with their guesses on what is missing, and what is the reason for the silence.  This quickly turns into actions (or inactions) that affect their performance and the organization.  Provide some stability and predictability by sticking to a communication cadence that keeps the silence void small enough that none of your employees feel they need to fill it.

Thanks for reading this week.  Wednesday Wisdom will take a two week break soak up some sun.  Happy Canada Day!




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