As you may know if you have been a part of our community for a while, we really believe that communication is the basis for… well, for everything. And some of the most significant difficulties occur due to the lack of clear communication.
Recently, we were in a meeting that blew up. There were raised voices and accusations, there was fury and disappointment, and there was the chance that one or more people in the meeting would lose their job.
What happened? There was a huge misunderstanding about the meaning of silence.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have seen this happen. In business meetings, in personal relationships, and in our very own families, silence means different things to different people. When those meanings are not aligned, a lot can go wrong.
With this particular team, there had been discussion about to how to handle a large client account. The discussion included taking on some work that was going to tax the team in terms of their schedules and challenge them to stretch beyond their current skill levels. The leader of the meeting laid out the proposal, the timeline, and the demand to be innovative in response to the clients’ needs. There was some minor discussion and then the group fell silent. The meeting was done.
The leader left the room believing there was agreement to tackle the work. The team left the room believing the leader agreed that they couldn’t possibly get this done. In the time between their first meeting and the next—where we witnessed the blow up—nothing was done on the project. Nothing.
The leader believed the team was working on the project and was stunned that no work had been done.
The team assumed the leader was circling back with the client to create a modified proposal, and so felt betrayed by his anger and disappointment.
In the meantime, a very valued client was left hanging…
This week, we ask that you pay attention to the silence in your life and make sure that there is alignment with its meaning. In your meetings at work, be sure that everyone understands what the silence represents. Does silence commit you to something, indicate confusion, or reflect disagreement? In your relationships, does silence suggest support, or concern? With your kids, does silence mean they have stopped hearing you, or that they got it and will do what you asked?
Silence is only golden when everyone understands what it means.
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