Communication doesn’t always take the form of words. Different cultures signal different messages according to their respective social conventions. Body language also adds meaning to an exchange of information. But the absence of words can be a very powerful and informative weapon. Its expression often differs widely between contexts, nationalities and individuals.
It is not always clear how to interpret silence, as many other factors are important influences. For this reason it is helpful to know when culturally determined factors result in silence and when a silent response is dependent on the individual or for other reasons.
When your colleagues or business partners are quiet – does it mean they don’t know the answer, they are embarrassed and can’t answer, or simply they won’t answer? Perhaps they are assuming you understand their unspoken words and know implicitly what is “not being said”? Maybe they just don’t talk much and are more of an introvert?
Sometimes partners don’t have the authority to speak or are not allowed to say anything about confidential matters - especially if it is a sensitive topic. Maybe they simply don’t have the right words for the situation, or even don’t have them in the foreign language being used. Maybe something has gone wrong, terribly, terribly wrong.
Knowing how and when to use silence can be the make or break of a negotiation, encourage a business relationship or simplify communication with global partners.
Moreover, it is important to be aware of your own cultural preferences, on the other hand it is equally necessary to know how and why your partner is communicating silently.
We humans like learning; it is part of our success at surviving. Indeed, we predict behavior based on our own experiences. Gaining insight into other people’s behavior and experimentation, especially when working across cultures is essential to enhance mutual understanding. Listening, learning and asking are all significant elements in deciphering why someone is silent and being able to respond appropriately, but they take time.
A faster approach and a way to avoid making a faux pas is to consult an expert and work through a range of strategies that can help you in your particular situation.
When you want to effectively and efficiently avoid misunderstandings and develop strong business relationships with your partners you might have a number of questions.
Our cross-cultural training enables you to adapt your behaviour and to better understand your partners' reactions. What would you like to know more about?