Thursday, August 21, 2014

Silence Speaks Loudly ... Use It Wisely

A few weeks ago my son came to me, clearly frustrated. He was diligently planning and prepping for a film project on which he'd worked for over seven months and he'd been experiencing some difficulty. I asked, as mothers are wont to do, what was bothering him. 

He was frustrated by silence. He'd contacted various people to work in his film and wasn't getting returned calls or responses. He didn't understand that and didn't know what to do about it. Should he call again? Should he text or email instead? Should he make other calls in search of different people? He was on a deadline and waiting .... waiting ... and waiting. All he wanted was a simple answer. Yes, I'm in or No, not interested/not available. And instead he was met with dead air.

Explaining to a teenager that the Sound of Silence can -- in many cases -- actually be a chosen method of communication didn't go over very well. He'd reached out. He'd asked a question, in some cases he'd asked more than once. "Why don't they just let me know ... one way or another?" he asked me. "Why is that so difficult?"

Why IS that so difficult? Each of us is asked questions and receives invitations on a regular basis. Nowadays, these interactions are not only broached by phone or letter but by numerous electronic or "social media," including but not limited to texts, emails, FB messenger, twitter etc. But when invited or put to the question or when asked for help, do we answer or do we choose to remain silent? Do we respond to the query or delete and ignore it? And, why do we do that?

In both my by-day business and volunteer work (and my personal life too), I've encountered the Sound of Silence. I sell ads for a non-profit organization. I make calls and leave messages with warm leads and leads suggested by others. All I want to know is if they want to buy an ad in my program. All I need is a Yes or a Nope/not interested response. So I leave messages and often am met with stony silence. Because I'm stubborn, I tend to call again, leaving the "All I want is a call back, even if the answer is no" message.

See, at that point I am in a quandary. Was my message received? Should I follow-up again? Or do I just assume that the silence is in itself an answer? From past experience I've learned that isn't always the case. Sometimes the silence is due to busy schedules, meetings or forgetfulness ... they meant to call back but forgot. And when I call they are genuinely glad I followed-up. But in other cases, the silence is a blow-off. But how do we know which is which?

So there it is ... Silence. And there I am, trying to interpret what that might mean.

Ever been there? On the silent end or the receiving end? Is it our concern about disappointing someone that causes us to just avoid the conversation? Is it our fear to over-commit that keeps us silent? Do we dislike saying "no" and therefore assume our silence will do it for us? Or, did we miss the call and never realize someone was waiting for our response? Or, or, or...

When we are silent, what are we saying? What do we want the other person to hear? And how, in our silence, do we know if the person actually received the message we wanted to send?

Over the years, I've embraced a direct approach to communication. I don't like guessing games when it comes to discerning what silence and/or ambiguity is meant to mean. I mean, how do you do that???? Anyway, my authentic self is direct and when I honor that, I feel a sense of peace. Oh, at times I waffle. I mean, you can't make everything a "big deal." Sometimes you have to go with the flow. But when I encountered silence in a particular situation that sort of bothered me this week, I decided to address it and not allow it to fester. And, not surprisingly, I felt better when I did. My own silence went against my nature. And I could see it building walls that I didn't want there. So, I dealt with it. But that's just me. Everyone handles Silence differently.

We all encounter Silence. We've heard the White Noise or we've used it. But Silence speaks louder than words at times. And we might want to ask ourselves when we choose Silence, does it say what we truly want it to say? Or would a few simple words express our thoughts more effectively? 

The silent message leaves a lot to interpretation. And what someone "hears" may not be what you meant to say .. er, not say ...

My son and I discussed this. He chuckled as I told him that the Sound of Silence frustrates me too. That I've been there. And then, I encouraged him to just make other calls and reach out to people until someone responded with the simple Yes or No he was looking for.  

And then after he made those calls and got the answers he needed, we sat companionable together -- silent yet smiling. After all, silence also reflects those sweet-spot moments when we are truly in-tune with someone else and words are just not necessary. I prefer that Sound of Silence. Think my son does too.
                                                                                          -- Jenni