Silence is not always golden

Silence. Something I have recently been pondering again – but this time about how silence has a double edge. My blog “Silence is Golden” at https://garethbunn.wordpress.com/2012/09/ covered the positive side. A distillation of this follows.

The power of silence

Communication is an event in your audience’s mind. The purpose is to affect behaviour of your audience in the future. This relies upon the creation of memory. Memory is created in silence – “the power of the spaces around words”. If you keep on talking, memory is defeated.

So, we know that good oratory – if it is to affect behaviour – relies on the frequent use of the pause (at least 3 seconds). If you want to hear an excellent example see Obama at his best. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHAkDTlv8fA

The abuse of the power of silence

The other “edge” of silence is the refusal to respond. This is a form of abuse and has become pandemic in written communications – perhaps because of the worry about legal/contractual implications – a reason why no-one now ever says “sorry”.

I am sure I remember when I was a Civil Servant that if I received a letter from a member of the public it was my duty to reply. But that obligation is rarely honoured in business these days. We have all done it – ignored someone’s letter or email. I remember when I was a senior person in corporate life, I did not respond to several emails from a colleague who had left the company. He eventually sent me a message which started out “Have I done something to offend you?” That shook me out of my rudeness. I replied straight away.

However, I am finding that this type of rudeness (or ignorance as they might say in Wales) is becoming a disease.

Senior staff in companies which espouse collaboration and honesty frequently show complete disdain (if not contempt) for their business partners and suppliers; by not responding to messages which clearly require a simple response, advice or information. This is an arrogant abuse of power – the negative aspect of silence.

As a client friend put it “It is easier to do nothing than to do something”.

So, I decided I would so something – by at least getting my own house in order. Included in my Email signature block is a commitment which reads:

Whenever I receive emails from individuals requiring a response (excluding unsolicited messages and SPAM) I aim to respond within 24 hours.

And I commit to living by this aim. I am not asking for much – just a reciprocation of common courtesy. Perhaps you might do the same?

 

So nothing has changed….

Last year’s post

Below is my post from January 2019. I don’t think much has changed when it comes to truth and lies. And the comment about railways needs no update. (But apologies to Caroline Lucas if I misrepresent her current view).

So I repeat it all. I have changed “two years” to “three years”. Otherwise the same.

A wish for 2020

I thought a lot about my own company and what I do. I train and coach others to be more compelling, more influential and persuasive. But there was precious little in my marketing materials or course overviews which really focused on truthfulness and integrity. The conclusion dawned on me:

  • Influence without sincerity is tyranny
  • Persuasion without honesty is manipulation

So let us do what we can in 2020, each in our own way, to demonstrate sincere influence and honest persuasion.

Our recent past

The last three years have been communication shockers. Debate on political and social matters have become shouting matches. Reason has by and large been trashed by the shouty people and replaced with unsubstantiated assertions, enthymemes, and mendacity.

This is a pretty black picture – but whether one looks West or East or across many European countries (most notably the UK) – the pursuit of truth and considered argument has been put under intense pressure, and often attacked as being a conspiracy of fear. This is a tactic used for example by Climate Change Deniers and by ardent Brexit campaigners to undermine the arguments and amassed evidence of their opponents.

False argument

Particularly discouraging is the use of false (or at least incomplete) argument. Caroline Lucas – of whom I am normally something of a fan – seemed to me to do this when tweeting about the state of the railways this week (the 3.1% fare increase). https://twitter.com/CarolineLucas on Jan 2nd.

It is clearly true that the last year has been, for some railways users, chaotic and unsatisfactory. It is also self-evident that a national transport infrastructure needs appropriate investment. It is also arguable – but probably right – that the structure of the industry is not optimal. And the failures in the franchising process points to a need for radical overhaul/replacement.

Some facts

It is a fact that the industry was privatised in the mid 90s. A further fact that the infrastructure management component (Railtrack) was brought back into public ownership as Network Rail less than a decade later.

The solution

But I can see no root cause analysis which would point to the re-nationalisation of the railways as an obvious way forward. British Rail – the state owned predecessor – was no advertisement for quality, cost-effectiveness, reliability or investment. In fact, quite the opposite. “We’re getting there” was the most optimism it could muster. And would you put the future of the railways in the hands of a Department and Secretary of State who puts the entire blame for this year’s 3.1% fare increase on the unions?

The thing is, I do think there is benefit in having a considered assessment of different structural and investment options. But boiling everything down to a question of state or part-private ownership loses most or all of the flavour.

Why rhetoric has got a bad name

My subject and interest is communication and persuasion – what I have always thought of as the noble art of rhetoric. It upsets me that the term is most commonly used now as a put-down – “just rhetoric”. I am not surprised though, because many of our politicians do not even try to substantiate their arguments, relying instead upon disingenuity and appeals to prejudice – the “as we all know…….” statement. Assertions without a body of proof are indeed “just rhetoric” and that makes up most of what we hear from our politicians and read in our newspapers. In fact it is much worse than the bland “just rhetoric” label – it is actually sophistry. The passing of Paddy Ashdown, a politician who took pains to explain and exemplify his arguments, paints the appalling quality of the current political stock in high relief.

A wish for 2020

I thought a lot about my own company and what I do. I train and coach others to be more compelling, more influential and persuasive. But there was precious little in my marketing materials or course overviews which really focused on truthfulness and integrity. The conclusion dawned on me:

  • Influence without sincerity is tyranny
  • Persuasion without honesty is manipulation

So let us do what we can in 2020 each in our own way, to demonstrate sincere influence and honest persuasion.