Have You Mastered the Skill of Interpreting Silence?

Published September 29, 2020


CommunicationLeading Others

Effective leaders know that the art of communication is as much about listening as it is about talking.

But to really master this art, leaders must learn to listen to, and interpret, silence as much as they listen to words.

If you’re going to really understand what is happening with your team and with your organization it is vitally important that you learn to pay attention to silence, and to understand what the silence means.


As a starting point, here are 3 messages that silence could be telling you…

“I am not producing results.”

When things are going well, your team will become a virtual chatterbox of updates and information. If the results are strong your email inbox will be jammed full of updates and data. People will be setting up impromptu Zoom calls to give you the latest glowing reports on the success of the project.

Because in leadership, what is not being said is as important as what is being said.

But when projects are not going well, things will sometimes grow strangely silent. When results are weak, when problems are brewing or when there is little progress you might find little chatter coming from your team.


Pay attention to the silence of poor results.

“I am unhappy.”

Long before someone announces that they are unhappy and thinking about leaving the team, they first communicate this by their silence.

Whether it’s because of a disagreement with you, frustration with their role or inability to advance, the first signs are often to be found in silence. There could be fewer contributions in Zoom meetings, slower responses to your inquiries and a drop off in new ideas.


Pay attention to the silence of discontent.

“I am not engaged with our purpose.”

Sometimes even a high performer can withdraw from the overall goals of the team. They might continue to produce results, but if they don’t align with the team’s vision they can become more of a solo act.

And the first indicator of this is silence.

You might not hear them celebrate team wins and you could hear very little enthusiasm for progress towards the organization’s goals.


Pay attention to the silence of low engagement.

In many cases, silence can be interpreted as bad news. Learn to discern what the silence could be telling you. Because in leadership, what is not being said is as important as what is being said.

About the Author
Scott Cochrane

Scott Cochrane

Vice President of International

Global Leadership Network

Scott Cochrane serves as Vice President of International at the Global Leadership Network. An insightful and genuine leader, he travels the globe mentoring international teams. Prior to joining the GLN, he was the executive pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna, British Columbia, and provided leadership to the Global Leadership Network Canada.