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Unformatted text preview: How to Handle Silence, the Worst Kind of Feedback - Peter Bregman - Harvard Business Page I of 6 HARVARD '1? BUSINESS ‘ PUBLISHING JANUARY 20, 2010 (9:56 AM) Register today and save 20%“ off your ﬁrst order! Details Peter Bre man On: Managing Yoursei , eadership Development, Communication How to Handle Silence, the Worst Kind of Feedback 1:38 PM Tuesday January 19, 2010 | Comments (13) Last week I shared the problem of Alex, a marketing consultant who was left in the dark when Sam, a
prospective client, didn't call him back. My suggestion to Alex was to reach out to Sam once and then let it go. In that situation Alex and Sam didn‘t know each other well (they had met once). Everyone knows in a
sales situation that there‘s a strong chance he may not hear back from a prospect. But what if Sam and Alex had done lots of work together? Maybe they're colleagues. 0r friends even.
What ifletting go is not simple but simply too hard. maybe even emotionally impossible? What it Alex can't stop thinking about it?
First, you might wonder. what's wrong with Alex that he can't st0p thinking about it? Grow up. right? "Silence," Alex later told me, "is the worst, most damaging kind of feedback." Effective feedback is
clear and specific. Silence is ambiguous and generic. it could mean anything. "We don't know why the other person is silent," Alex continued, "and we inevitably go straight to our biggest insecurities." Why do we go to our insecurities? Because we know that people tend to shy away from
communicating negative messages. If someone hasn’t called us, we think to ourselves, it must be
that she doesn't want to communicate something negative to us. Or she simply wants us to stop
bothering her and go away. Also. we figure. it the person wanted to work with us, itwould be in her
interest to let us know m she would have called. So, when we don't geta response from someone, we imagine one, and it sounds something like this:
"Terriblejob you did the other day. And, oh. by the way, I don't like you very much." Which, of course, is not usually what the other person wants to communicate. Eiut misunderstandings
rarely happen in words. they happen in the gap between the words. And the longerthe gap, the more room for misunderstanding. Here's what makes the problem difficult to ignore: it happens all the time between people who have
to continue working together. A manager and an employee An employee and an internal client. Two
people from different departments working on a project together. And here's what makes the problem so pernicious: Uncertainty. We don‘t know the other person
thinks we did a bad job. We don't know the other person doesn‘t like us. And that keeps us
wondering. That's what makes silence so hard. Discomfort lies in uncertainty. ltwe knew, then we would deal with itand move on, But since we don't, we wait, wonder, and stress. http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2010/01/hOW-to—handle-silence-the—wors.htm1 q semen Cart
My Account Downloads Subscribe | Sign ianegister Peter Bregman speaks, writes. and
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8. What's Your Company's Sentence? 1/20/2010 How to Handle Silence, the Worst Kind of Feedback — Peter Bregman - Harvard Business Page 2 of 6 So how should we deal with the uncertainty of silence when it would be inadvisable to (or we simply ; 9_ HOW to Wme T0430 Lists That Work
can't) let go? Three steps: 5 t0, Howto Keep Your Action Plan on Track
1. Acknowledge to yourselfthat you don't know whatthe silence means. Resist the temptation to fill in the blank. 2. Admit to the other person that you don't know what the silence means. Ask him to ﬁll in the blank. MAKING
GREEN our .- i intuit-ms “rear fa 'oii sistariiasri ': FREE
DOWNLOAD If you get an answer you don’t believe, pretend you believe it anyway. if you're told she's been busy 0 "A RETURN to PROFIT FROM
- THECORE“BY CHRlSZOOK :lDLlQi‘.’ to ,Cu by ‘ HITACHI l inspire tin-Nat 3, No matter what he says, act as if it's the truth. Most people don't ask others what the silence means because they‘re afraid it will make them look vulnerable. But the opposite is true. Ifyou don‘t have the conversation, then you end up doing things 7 like emailing every few days or leaving five messages — that makes you look even more
vulnerable. And the truth is, it's a sign of conﬁdence to ask someone to be clear in his thinking. It shows you're not afraid of the answer. and that‘s the only reason, then ask her when would be a good time to pick up the conversation again. . . . ,) .
And If you cant get to step two because she doesnt respond at all. Aftertwo unanswered emails or KEEP UP WITH HER
voice mails you should send one ﬁnal one saying some version of: “i don't mean to hound you -— but I figured I'd reach out one more time. Please let me know ifyou are able to discuss this further. lil FOI'DW “5 0” Twitter ll don't hear from you l'ii assume you're not interested."
Become a Fan on Facebook » ‘ '| all t or n' t' . B 't' alter ll ' ' '
Thatfinal emai usu y ge s a p so 5 atten lOl'l utI a thatshe still doesntrespond, it HER on YouTube » should be easier to let go because you know you've done all you can. Whatever you do though, after sending that last message, don't send "just one more." Followthough —'——— on your word: assume the person is not interested.
I Harvard Business Review Daily Alert And if you're the other person. the one who gets all those messages, including that ﬁnal one, and - Management Tip of the Day
doesn't respond? Consider communicating. it you don't know what to communicate, it's OK to say I The Daily Stat
that, so the other person isn't left ﬂoundering. Tell him you‘ll get back to her when your time permits. - Weekly Hotlist I See all newsletters »
How can you be expected to remember to communicate with someone when there’s nothing to communicate? Here‘s a trick: drive your communication by the person, notthe information. I keep a
list of every person with whom i have an open issue. And at least once a week i go through the list
and ii I haven't connected with someone in a week or two, I send an email that takes me a few WHAT’S YOUR NEXT MOVE? seconds to write that says. in effect, you're still on my list. Which reminds me, i have a couple of emails to send. More on; Communication Managing uncertainty, Managing yourself Comments US) i Join the Discussmn i Email/Share PREViOUS
When Your Voicemails and Emails Go
Unanswered, What Should You Do? ————*—__
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