I am in the north of England at a family reunion. These events happen once a year. They are wonderful and stressful. Amazing and hard work. Outstanding and tiring. All at the same time…but never afterwards.
Afterwards we all only remember the good times. The laughter. The stories. The photo-opportunities. As time goes by, the meals improve in quality, the wine matures with age and the memories develop. And before we know it, we are starting to look forward to next year’s event.
On our drive here I asked my own family what they thought of the menu we had chosen for dinner…silence. I asked them about what they thought of the hotel we were booked to stay at…more silence. And finally I asked what they were looking forward to most…silence again.
Silence! Silent opposition? Silent ambivalence? Or silent approval? I decided on silent approval. And why not? It is just as likely that silence is an indicator of approval as it dissent.
There’s a human nature thing at play here. We all like to hear that we are doing well…or that our ideas are well received…or that are plans are inspiring. But there are relatively few people out there – in work or personal life – who reliably and consistently let us know. One way or the other.
And so we fill in gaps for ourselves. Because we can. Because we need to…or want to. And some of us fill the silence with positivity (I am sure they loved my ideas). And some with negativity (I knew it – they hated what I suggested). And some with ambivalence (did they read it?).
We could find out. We could ask. But the answer may differ from what we decide to assume (good or bad). We could be right (or wrong)…by not very much or by a very long way. When I fill the silence I look for positivity…although – like everyone – I can sometimes jump onto the downward spiral.
Having thought about this, I realise that the crucial factor seems to be how I am feeling myself. If I am feeling good then any void is a world of (positive) opportunity. If I am feeling down for any reason then a silence can frequently be a problem.
The strange thing about how we fill the silence is that it has little or nothing to do with the state of mind or opinions of the responder. And this can lead to more complications since once we have decided on how to fill a silence, we are – in effect – imposing that opinion on the individual whose views we are actually seeking.
No reply has to mean that they don’t like what I proposed…and they either don’t believe what I am saying will work, or they don’t think it’s the right way to go. And yet we have no real information to guide us either way…other than the lack of a response.
I seek to avoid silence when asked for input. I would love to believe that every time I am asked for my opinion that my silence would be taken as approval….but I know that’s not true. I always offer a reply. Sometimes to the specific individual and occasionally to the wider team…but I avoid silence.
Every email (almost) I ever write finishes with a question. “What do you think?” is the most common. And this is both because I always want more input…and I am working to avoid silence.
And if I do experience silence? I avoid imposing opinion (good or bad) into the gap. I will check again. And if in doubt I assume a positive