Silence is golden at work too : The power of silence at work (MWC Work)

It is said that silence is golden but the aspect of how powerful it can be at work is not yet as deeply understood.

The power of Silence at Work: Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

“Sometimes silence is a perfect answer

When words fail you”

The work environment often is perceived as rewarding those who are :

  • outspoken
  • are always making themselves felt and heard
  • are the ones proposing or initiating — ideas, thoughts, brainstorming etc.
  • are the front runners in the being vocal and discerning with their words

But it is very rarely understand that silence can be equally influential at work and in some cases can serve as a better ally than being wordy or vociferous. Thus far silence has been condemned as a trait of the weak and performers who do not want to go for the kill aka would like to be in the sidelines at the risk of being average or below average.

Silence is Golden at work as well : Photo by Dushyant patel on Unsplash

But this is no longer the norm. Using the power of silence or in some instances being succinct can reap you the wins that are sometimes not possible by being demonstrative or verbose. Silence has surely and steadily been seen to win many a battles at the workplace- even some which have not been possible with the spoken or written word.

How does not saying anything i.e. being silent allow one to conquer workplace challenges ?

Silence is a powerful tool. Its says much with saying — that's right “nothing”. As we have often heard ‘Silence is taken as Acceptance’- but that is old school.

Silence is perceived as acceptance in the workplace
Silence is perceived as Acceptance at the workplace

Silence could mean many things beyond plain acceptance:

  • That you are choosing your battles : It implies which areas you wish to make a difference/contribute consciously by voicing your opinion or views. E.g. If a certain work group never values your ideas or your inputs never see the light of day in a particular audience who you share it with; Then it is well understood , your silence is more appropriate here and your ideas have a more deserving place.
  • That you are introspecting /contemplating: Not all actions have to be in the moment or instant. Some actions are better thought of and then put to work, which need more deep analysis and therefore it is wisely said “Respond and not React”. Silence in such a case provides the buffer or cushion to buy the time to be able to adopt this strategy.
  • That simply put you have nothing to contribute and it is still OKAY: Not having a Say is very much OKAY. Its not a must to have to speak your point or make your opinion known in every instance. Staying silent is still acceptable or respectable.

Will being silent not be perceived as your lack of defense, lack of knowledge, lack of understanding etc.?

Drawing from the last point above, saying NOTHING or being SILENT need not be taken as one’s weakness. People have the notion than not saying anything could act against them as they could be considered in bad light due to one of the below impressions at work being formed of them:

Lack of knowledge, understanding or defense ? Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash
  • That you lack knowledge : It no longer thought that not having anything to say at a particular instance is a lack of knowledge. It may mean many different things and this is being more accepted at workplaces today :

— That you acknowledge and are knowledgeable in this area- but current topic under discussion is something you are not completely aware of /you have not been close to/not your sweet spot and therefore it is legitimate to stay silent and listen.

— That you would be open to contribute but when you feel that you are not reiterating or para phrasing what others may already have said an therefore don't want to look lame making a point already made.

— That you don't want to speak just for the sake of it- as simple as it comes!

  • That you are not able to defend yourself:

Defense or protecting your image and reputation at work need not result only as a resulting of speaking to defend yourself. Silence is a great defense and shield as well.

Silence sometimes completely catches your opponents off-guard and disarms them. While they were expecting a reaction or for you to retort in defense, when you are silent they are taken by surprise. Not only that they have no instance or opportunity now to come back at you . As you are not providing them the opportunity at all by shielding it with your silence!. They will then have to attack needlessly and appear foolish. Thus silence works out to be a smart move in such instances.

  • They you not able to comprehend or understand a idea or concept :

People have the perception that not saying anything can make them appear not intelligent or smart to be able to understand or comprehend the topic at hand. E.g. If a new topic is being present at a meeting by the Head of the company and a smart question can make you look very sharp and intelligent to comprehend and pose a bright query.

But while asking a quick question is definitely great, a well thought out and observed move by mulling on the topic and going back to the boss/head with a more actionable plan would be better received and a more solid win in the long term. It would also justify that you not only well understood the concept but also carved out something valuable out of the concept presented.

Which instances are better suited for a silent treatment as compared to others ?

So now that we understand Silence can be a great tool at work and not put you on the backfoot- how do you go about deciding when to use silence Vs when not to and speak up. Which situations merit silence vis-à-vis which deserve to not not be meted the silent treatment. In brief how to be intelligent with your silence ?

When is a silent treatment better ? Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

The following points will help you decide when to apply silence as your best weapon :

Can you add value : Do you inherently feel you need to speak and contribute ? Like everything in life, act based on your inherent sense, gut feeling or instinct. Use your judgement to know if you have anything to add value or contribute. Else use your ally- Silence to best suit the situation and reserve your words/ideas/thoughts where you can better help the situation.

Are you saying something superficially: If you feel the need to speak for superficial reasons — for e.g. you want to have an upper hand over some of your co-workers, you want to sound highly knowledgeable on the topic in question, you want to sound assertive etc. then the better move in such situations is to rather stop the verbal diarrhea and adopt silence. As anything said or done for a superficial reason can quickly backfire and leave you hapless as most of must already have experienced.

Does the instance merit deeper analysis : If something seems like it needs some deep thought, analysis, strategizing and planning then it is best left for a later date to bring up your ideas and discuss when you are ready. E.g. You can always schedule a discussion when you are more equipped to discuss the topic and mention that you are not currently ready or well informed. In such cases leverage silence to observe , listen and make notes/ points for your analysis.

Summary- How to use Silence smartly to meet your work goals ?

In summary silence is no longer considered a weakness , failing or drawback. It is accepted in intelligent circles as a more well thought out move than rambling non stop without thought.

So use silence intelligently to meet your work goals by:

  • Using silence smartly to navigate difficult work situations
  • Not pre-empting or assuming that silence will make you look less knowledgeable, intelligent or able to defend yourself
  • Knowing which instances to apply silence at work to achieve small and big wins

Because anything said that is not well grounded or profound will only make one look more foolish than remaining silent and being perceived as a dunce.

“Words are powerful , but so is Silence “

— — The Author

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Anjana Rao

Anjana Rao

Product & Tech Leader: Reader : Traveller: Author: Coach