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 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.

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. I trust you will do the same.

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?