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Chris Witt


I used to love silence at the end of my speeches, because I assumed or at least wanted to think it meant people were with me -- in awe, even, of my wisdom. (I also used to think that it was a good thing when people didn't have any questions.)

Now I look / hope to spark something. I want to raise the volume in the room.

I agree with all the reasons you list for why people may be silent. (But I did have to read up on "counterdependent.")

One reason you can add to your list: people disagree with what you've said and they don't know how or don't feel safe to voice their disagreement. Some people equate disagreement with conflict, and hate conflict.


Steve Roesler

Hi, Chris,

That's comforting to hear; I always thought it had been only me who had walked through life reveling in the apparent wonderfulness of post-speech silence!

I'll add the "safety" issue to the next list. Isn't it fascinating how we all want to have some control over our lives but may choose not to exercise it if it might mean disagreement? The other issue--safety in organizations--is always a biggie. Do you find that it emerges with some regularity as a result of your interventions in speaking/communication?

peter vajda

Hi, Steve,

Then there are those who feel emotionally lacking, deficient or insufficient as a result of some invidious comparison they are making between themself and the speaker as a result of what they've heard or what they've seen - they may feel jealous, insecure, angry at themselves (depressed)for being or feeling "stupid" (not the "confusion" you refer to above.

Good stuff and thanks for this.

Steve Roesler

Hello, Peter,

In such instances, what percentage of those folks are aware of what is driving how they are feeling in the moment?

It would seem that identifying that kind of self-defeating cycle would make one go: "Hmm. That makes no sense; I'm going to start participating!"

peter vajda

Hi Steve,

IMHO, in response to your question, 2%....the other 98% are finding fault with the speaker (the audience, the venue, the temperature....) in some way, shape or form...i.e., looking outside thmselves for an excuse for their discomfort.

Wally Bock

Hey Steve. This is aggravated by the concept taught in many sales training programs that "silence means consent."

Steve Roesler


That's a heck of a misguided concept.

Who managed to sell that?

HR Jobs

Hi Steve,

Here's another one for you.
- People may have lost interest and don't want to speak as they think it will look like a sign of interest.

Silence often holds many meanings, when people don't talk their body language ca give us many clues as to why they are silent.

Thanks for the post it was a very interesting read.

Rodney Johnson

Yes, too often silence does become a Silent Problem. And when the silence is unleashed without warning, it screams.

Chris Witt


Regarding your question about safety in organizations and about how the issue gets raised in response to my interventions in speaking/communication:

Two issues (there may be more) involving safety (or the lack thereof) I come upon in my work are:

1) Higher ups ask for feedback / questions when they really don't want it. I've had clients sent to me because they were disrespectful or they weren't with the program or weren't team players. Their crime? They put the boss on the spot by asking (unwanted) questions during a public meeting.

2) Higher ups blame poor communication on their subordinates when its their own doing. For example, an engineering firm hired me to work with its managers, because the president didn't like their presentations. They weren't the greatest presenters, mind you, but he was a terrible audience. He constantly interrupted them from the very start. He asked questions that they couldn't possibly answer. And he was rude and intimidating. Why would anyone want to talk to him?

I hadn't thought about it until you raised the issue, but lack of trust / safety often breeds silence (or inept communications).


Hayli @ Transition Concierge

My sales training was similar to the last paragraph of this article. Essentially, make your proposal and then wait for the silence to force the prospective customer into starting a conversation. We were taught that he who talks first "loses".

Mary Jo Asmus


Your post prompted some thoughts about the other side of the coin: when can silence be a good thing?

When a manager has good relationships with those around him, and when he has created and nurtured safety for people to speak up. In this case, silence can simply mean that wheels are turning! Particularly with introverts who "think first, speak later", it is essential that the silence that occurs (under the conditions indicated) is allowed to unfold. They do their best thinking and give their best answers that way.

Steve Roesler

HR Jobs:

You mention, "People may have lost interest and don't want to speak as they think it will look like a sign of interest."

Definitely going on the next list.

Steve Roesler


Great one-liner about silence screaming. Am putting that in the "quotable" bin for an upcoming post.

Steve Roesler


The two scenarios you clearly outline here are two of the reasons our business moved from totally Presentation Skills to organization development. It was nearly impossible to make executives effective presenters if they didn't build organizations with a deeper foundation of trust and overall good communication.

Consider them on the next list...

Steve Roesler


"He who talks first, loses" is a line used in many situations. It's one that I carry in the back of my mind yet, at the same time, isn't 100% accurate out of context. The real issue is that you can't learn anything about a situation if you are talking; thus, in the sales situation. sales people will never know what the prospect is thinking or feeling if the focus is on "the pitch".

Another one-liner for the next edition...thanks, Hayli.

Steve Roesler

Mary Jo,

Good Jungian insight.

Now you've prompted the need for an entirely different look at silence from that perspective.

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