You’re in a meeting room with your colleagues. Your manager wraps up and opens the floor for input. But a palpable silence shrouds the space. The clock ticks as everyone avoids eye contact, shuffles papers or peers desperately into their laptops. Despite the invitation to engage, it feels as if there’s a collective vow of silence.
Quiet moments in meetings are not just awkward. They can be dangerous.
Silence isn’t golden
Traditional wisdom tells us that a quiet room signifies an engaged audience. We’ve been led to believe that silence is a marker of respect, attentiveness, contemplation. But what if it’s a guise?
Moviemakers use the absence of sound is a precursor to something ominous. Similarly, a silent meeting space can signal underlying tensions, unspoken disagreements or a lack of engagement.
A proxy for consent
Imagine a manager deciding that silence means agreement; that, if a room falls quiet, there’s unanimous consent. That’s like watching Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, and believing he’s harmless just because he’s momentarily pre-occupied.
Back to the example of the manager who elects to see silence as consent: In this case, instead of being a mere inconvenience, silence becomes an active accomplice to poor decision-making.
The echo chamber
If the unwritten ground rule is, “Around here, silence means consent”, you’re replacing the vibrant exchange of ideas with passive aggressiveness and hallway politics. Meetings become echo chambers, where silence amplifies the voice of authority and marginalises dissent.
A radical idea
What if you integrate a “Silence Score” into your meetings? At the end of each agenda point, allow a 30-second pause. Use an app to record who speaks up and how often. Contrary to punishing talkativeness, reward those who break the silence. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how enlightening these insights might be.
The bottom line?
In “The Silence of the Lambs,” silence was never just silence; it was a harbinger of something darker. The same is true in the workplace, although with consequences less fatal. It’s time we recognise silence for what it is: a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Just because a room is quiet, doesn’t mean the lambs have stopped screaming.