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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Assertiveness and the Sound of Silence

Sometimes the sound of silence is more effective than uttering a single word. Silence can actually be quite loud in an assertive interaction.

Silence to employ a good listening technique 

First silence can be an indication that you are listening. After a moment of silence, it is often helpful to reiterate what you heard the other person say. Then that person knows you were listening and that you understood what they said.

 Simon and Garfunkel comment in their song about “people hearing without listening” which is what many people do. Once I had a conversation with my youngest daughter, Valerie, who was then in high school. She looked attentive and nodded her head at whatever I was requesting that she do going forward. Then the next day she did exactly the opposite of what I said the day before.

 I was confused. “But Valerie, I don't understand why you did that.  I talked to you about this very thing yesterday.”

 “Oh, Mom,” she said, “That was because I looked like I was listening, but I wasn’t really listening.”

 One important value of silence in an assertive interaction is that you can actually listen and put together what you have heard in the silence before affirming your understanding by repeating it for the other person.

Silence to offer respect to the other person

Often in conversation, I imagine you find yourself thinking of what you want to say next.  You may plan the whole conversation in your head, all the while nodding and smiling at the other person.

Or you may interrupt because you are so eager to get your two cents in that you just can't wait for him/her to finish the sentence or the thought.

Waiting (and listening) in silence is much more respectful of the other person and indicates that you value his/her contribution to the topic.

Silence to avoid taking in an insult

Silence can also be quite powerful when you are speaking with someone who is treating you without respect. Silence then serves to indicate that you are not going to allow someone to poke you or at least that you will not give them the satisfaction of knowing that they have struck a blow.

 For example if someone insults you: “I don’t know why I expected YOU to get it right. After all every time I assign a task to someone at your level, it gets completely botched up.”

Why honor the insult with a response (indicating to the bully that he/she has damaged you)?  Instead, simply take charge of the conversation by beginning a new topic.

You respond with nothing....complete silence and no change of facial expression....and then change the subject.

Silence to give power to the punch line

At the office, Sam makes a request of his associate, Rudy.  "Rudy, I want us to meet our goal by the end of the week.  Both of our evaluations depend on this."

Rudy looks shocked and says, "But Sam, you know we can't do this.  We don't have enough people power to make the number of phone calls that we will need to make."

Sam looks at Rudy and says nothing.  Then after a short silence, Sam says again, "Rudy, I want us to meet our goal by the end of the week."

The silence adds power and effectiveness to the statement Sam is making.  Sam does not allow any watering down of his request because to him it is of the utmost importance.  So without engaging in speculation with Rudy, after a short silence, Sam simply makes the statement again.

Silence to avoid impulsive decision making

"I know, I know," says your wife.  "We can go on vacation to the Bahamas.  The weather should be great and it's not that long a trip.  We can ask Fred if we can use his timeshare."

This sounds good and you are ready to jump on board, but instead you say, "Let me think about this - I don't want to make an impulsive decision and suddenly have airplane tickets that we can't use."  So you sit in silence contemplating the pros and cons before sharing them with your wife to make a careful and studied decision.

These are only a few of the ways in which silence can strengthen assertiveness.  So assertiveness isn't always what you say, but is often what you don't say.

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