Posted by: chrismaser | May 13, 2010


Most people, including many leaders, are profoundly uncomfortable with silence and feel compelled to speak. It’s not uncommon for a leader to become so threatened by silence that they do something counterproductive to break the silence and thus relieve their anxiety, especially when addressing a small group of people or in a one-on-one conversation. Silence, when allowed to flow unimpeded through indeterminate seconds and minutes, draws people out, causing them to engage both uncomfortable circumstances and one another.

Silence, in addition to drawing people out, can have many meanings. Some of the possible meanings include: (1) agreement, (2) quietly considering things just discussed or evaluating some insight just acquired, (3) waiting for another person to break the silence, (4) boredom, distraction, preoccupation, or just not have anything to say at the moment, (5) hostility, (6) hidden or unexpressed disagreement, (7) communication without words, where perhaps words are inadequate or the silence is refreshing; and (8) communication on a superficial level with some fear or hesitancy to reveal real concerns.

A leader would do well to explore the meaning of silence when it occurs. They can be the first to acknowledge the silence, tell the other person(s) how they fee about it, and then pursue the meaning of the silence rather than pretending that it does not exist by making useless small talk to regain their lost sense of comfort. In pursuing the meaning of silence, however, you must listen, really listen, to what is being said because we all need to feel we have been heard.

Series on Leadership Challenges:

• The Challenges Of Leadership

• Dealing With Anxiety

• Use Of Power

• Criticism In The Form Of Projection

• Criticism And Your Image

• Being And Disclosing Yourself

• The Zen Of Perfection

• Honesty With Followers

• Understanding The Need To Be Heard

• Establishing Your Boundaries

• Dealing With The Uncommitted

• Accepting Slow Or Delayed Results

• Learning Your Limits

Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.

Protected by Copyscape Web Copyright Protection

This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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