In my book about relationships, Dump the Neanderthal and Choose your Prime Mate, a salient point was made about the nature and dynamics of communication: “The outcome of the vast majority of communications is predictable”
In his landmark book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie outlines strategies for attaining the goals laid out in his book’s title. While some suggest that Carnegie was simply teaching us the art of social manipulation, I must disagree. On second thought, I take that back. I actually do agree that Carnegie was instructing us in that direction. And what’s wrong with that, if those techniques produce more favorable relationships and happier outcomes?
But let’s go back to the quote above. It suggests that we can almost always predict the result of any given message. For example, spouses who ask, “Are we having meatloaf AGAIN?” (coupled with a whiny voice and shoulder shrug) can surely expect a defensive or angry response from their mates. What are the chances that their partner will, instead, sweetly respond, “Gee, honey, thanks for asking”? Doubtful.
Just as we can predict the outcome of most statements, it is also possible to anticipate the result of silence. If a caustic jibe or nagging reminder will predictably produce a negative response, what would the consequence of NOT making such a remark be? Our great grandmothers may be have spouted the old homily, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” Perhaps not about everything, but this time Granny was on target.
Imagine this scenario: A spouse, pre-occupied with the details of his frustrating day, clumsily spills a cop of coffee on the couple’s new tablecloth. His partner is exasperated, and then………..says nothing. He looks up, expecting an earned berating that doesn’t come, also, gratefully, says nothing.
What have we just seen? Prevention. A spat, heading nowhere, has been avoided by one partner respecting the foibles of the other. Silence is then reciprocated by the appreciating partner, who mimics the welcome quietude.
Sometimes, silence IS golden.
Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom. – Bacon