After Hours

Getting a big bang from silence

Knowing when to shut up is a management skill not everyone possesses. But there may be times when silence is your golden opportunity to spark a conversation. Some TechRepublic members reject using the silent treatment, others say it is a great tool.


Many TechRepublic members joined the chorus of proponents who believe silence can be an effective management tool. In a recent Artner’s Law column, TechRepublic’s Bob Artner proposed this “law“:

“Silence may not be golden, but it is often very useful.”

Artner explained how selective silence might be used to encourage someone to focus and elaborate on a topic of discussion in an effort to fill in a gap in the conversation. Artner’s column “Want a management tip? Learn when to shut up!” prompted TechRepublic members to begin a debate about this proposed technique.

Members responded largely with three groups of observations:
  • The technique generally works, but can be used to intimidate.
  • Silence works in meetings as well, but needs to be used with care.
  • Moments of quiet can be effective in interview situations.

Guilt, intimidation, success?
Some of you did not agree that using silence, however selectively, is a good management method.

Michael the cat asked Artner if he was advocating management via intimidation.

“This intimidation by silence gambit last worked on me when I was 6. I guess I'd just smile sweetly and say ‘What’s your point, Bob?’ and stare at you till you began talking,” he wrote.

Artner replied to this concern.

“The issue isn't intimidation. Rather, what you're trying to do is get at the root cause of a problem. Often, simply being quiet forces the person you're talking with to focus on the issue and get beyond the surface chatter,” Artner said.

Jodi Jaap, director of MIS at Aculight Corporation, agreed with Artner that silence doesn’t have to be intimidating if body language clearly indicates you are listening.

“Excellent communicators ‘listen’ rather than talk. Berating an employee only gets them flustered/defensive and they will lose respect for you,” Jodi wrote. “By simply asking ‘When will the report be done?’ and being silent, you are giving them the opportunity to gather their thoughts and answer the question. Continued silence or listening prompts them to keep talking, often getting to the heart of the matter.”

Santu wrote that the effect of silence could have a positive effect on future productivity. “It makes the listener really feel guilty about his/her deed and thereafter they try to give their best.”

Roger Theriault calls the silence technique “Stop and Plop.”

“I'll state the problem simply, and then stop talking, effectively plopping it in the other person's lap. Since I've stopped talking, they know I'm listening, and they start talking. It's very effective,” Theriault wrote.

Getting noticed at meetings
Several members pointed out how silence can be used effectively in meetings. The principle is based on the fact that when you don’t want to be noticed, you typically are.

Minstrelmike observed this phenomenon and advises members to, “Let others ramble and reiterate points with redundant examples. When you finally speak, you're:
  1. A new voice.
  2. Probably not going to go on and on and on.
  3. Probably going to say something new.

“Of course, this method only works if once you do deign to speak, you actually say something worthwhile.”

Jennifer Perrier, a research analyst for The Info-Tech Research Group, writes that being quiet at meetings really works. “Frustrated by continuous feelings of not being 'heard,' I decided to stop trying to interject and just listen instead. My quietness got their attention. My coworkers started asking me directly what I thought about the subject we were discussing. I had something to say and they were genuinely eager to hear it. Not only did they listen intently, but I also received kudos all around for my suggestion.”

If you are inspired to say nothing at future meetings, Kai66 has a warning for you. “I agree silence works in a meeting, if used properly. If a person participates in many meetings and all he says is ‘nothing to add at this moment,’ eventually, people will think of him as a useless person in a meeting.”

Interviews hold promise for silence
One member suggested that one place selective silence might have a helpful presence could be while interviewing a job candidate..

S Wolfe wrote, “Ask the candidate your question and let them respond. Then continue to look at them and stay quiet. The 'uncomfortable silence' often prompts the candidate to make some surprising statements that you wouldn't ordinarily hear.”

Silence is more appropriate if your subject appears to be holding back information on purpose, wrote Al Walls, a network administrator for RAM Electronic Sales. “Silence can be a form of intimidation, and could be received that way even if it is not intended as such,” Walls said. “Confident, quality employees and associates will not tolerate unfounded intimidation for very long.”

Dave Packman suggests, however, that job candidates can turn silence around and make it work in their favor. A quiet pause after a low-ball salary offer, for example, may lend importance to your counter offer.

“The less you say in negotiations, sometimes, the better,” Packman wrote.
Well, that’s a little harsh. Sometimes it’s good to speak up and tell us what you think. If you want to shout something about silence to the IT world, start a discussion below or send us a note.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox