Monday, April 07, 2003

2qtr2003 - Feature Article: Is Silence Really Golden?

Everyone's heard this old bromide and ones like it: "We have two ears and only one mouth for a reason." From it, you'd think that silence is one of the best things since sliced bread. Yet quite often silence does more to undermine effective communications in the workplace than you might initially think. Maybe it's not so golden after all.

Seemingly, one of the most effective time- and priority-management techniques is something I call Keeping the Boss Silent. It starts innocuously enough - you and an employee are having a pleasant conversation. But the other person keeps talking and talking with a filibuster-like fervor. If you had a point to make, you've long forgotten it. And that assignment you had to give? It'll have to wait because you're now running late.

Another technique that employees often use can be called Closed for Business. Instead of keeping you silent, they keep silent themselves, using a two-step process. Step One is called Hiding because if you, the boss, can't find them, then you can't assign any more work to them. Once found, though, Step Two kicks in. With the Silent Treatment, a person will seemingly "listen" to what you're saying - even offer an occasional "uh-huh," or "okay," to keep you going. But in reality, they're looking out the window or thinking about something else entirely.

But don't think that employees are the only ones who leverage the Power of Silence. Interviewers use prolonged silences as a form of behavioral Stress Test for leading candidates. And who hasn't had a boss who used silence as Feigned Support for a project or program while tossing it into the 'not now, not ever' bin?

It's easy to see in others, but how might YOU be manipulating the silence? Who don't you let talk that maybe you should? Who are you hiding from and why? Who's talking to you even though you're not really listening? Who might you be misleading or allowing to be misled? Answering honestly is the first step to changing your behavior.

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2qtr2003 - Ask the Coach: Better Boss Relations

Question: I'm not getting along as well as I'd like to with my boss. Can you recommend something I can do to improve things?

Answer: When bosses are asked what bugs them most about their direct reports, the answer often has something to do with not being told what's going on. So I recommend that my clients adopt an 'Unsolicited Update' program whereby they consider what the boss would want to know about a current project and then update him/her accordingly BEFORE the boss even asks.

The benefits are threefold:
  1. You're being proactive.
  2. By anticipating what the boss would want to know, you're thinking more strategically about your work.
  3. It eliminates the clutter, allowing you to utilize the time you DO spend with your boss more effectively.

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2qtr2003 - Great Things I Didn't Say!

  • "Buddha left a road map. Jesus left a road map. Krishna left a road map. Rand McNally left a road map. But you still have to travel the road yourself." - Stephen Levine
  • "Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before." - Jacob A. Riis
  • "Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • "The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." - William James
  • "Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light." - Joseph Pulitzer
  • "The finest eloquence is that which gets things done." - David Lloyd George

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