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The Best Way to Handle Silence

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Recently, I had what I felt was a great meeting. I sent an e-mail thanking them and proposing some follow-up. But over the next week, there was no response — silence. It’s the worst kind of feedback since it’s ambiguous. Since we don’t know why the other person is silent, we inevitably go straight to our biggest insecurities.

In the absence of a response, we start to imagine one that sounds something like, “Hey you did such a terrible job—I don’t even want to talk to you.” Which, of course, isn’t usually what the other person thinks or feels.

But misunderstandings rarely happen in words. They happen in the gap between the words. So what’s the best way to handle silence in a way that keeps the interaction positive?

First, acknowledge to yourself that you don’t know what the silence means, and resist the temptation to fill in the blanks with negative assumptions.

Next, reach out to the person who isn’t responding and ask them to reply one way or the other, so you know where you stand.

If you receive an answer, whatever it is, act as if it’s the truth, even when you know it isn’t.

If the person tells you he was out of town but you know he wasn’t, don’t call him on it. Nothing good can come of that. Simply ask when he’d like to pick up the conversation again.

What if you never get an answer, even to your second follow-up?

Send one final e-mail, saying, “I thought I’d reach out one more time. If I don’t hear from you, I won’t follow up again.” That usually gets a person’s attention.

But if you still hear nothing, let go.

You’ve done all you can.

By the way, if you’re the other person, the one who gets all those messages and doesn’t respond, consider communicating. If you don’t have an answer, just say that, so the other person isn’t left floundering. Tell him you’ll get back to him when time permits. That’s what my prospective client did, and eventually, we did connect when she was ready. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t. But when you free yourself from the uncertainty of silence, you can either move forward or redirect your time to more promising relationships.

In summary, the best way to handle silence :

  1. Acknowledge you don’t know what the silence means. Don’t let your emotion clouds your thinking with insecurities.
  2. Ask for a reply. Politely.
  3. Act as if the answer is truth. If their are lying, protect their ego.
  4. Send a final email. But be polite about it.
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