Analytical 43: Silence

31 May, 2021


When attempting to gather consensus, assuming that silence means consent might not be the best way to get the right outcome. We look at how to be open, respectful and what consensus really requires.

Transcript available
[Music] Everything can be improved, iterated and refined. And if you don't think that's true, maybe you haven't analysed it enough. Calculated choices carefully considered. Absolutely analytical. Analytical is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, and for other great shows, visit today. "Silence is golden" – or "Silence means acceptance" which is another variant. I have heard that a lot lately in meetings and it is driving me insane. Historically though, the whole expression is "Speech is silver and silence is golden" which is meant to praise those keeping silent rather than those speaking, and that was originally thought to have come from some time in the 9th century or so. So as expressions go, it's been around for a little while. The problem, of course, with so many expressions is how they get misused and abused. And people, you know, the problem is that in a group of people, you're set up with one person speaking, communicating to all of the others in that group, which therefore means everyone else has to be listening when that one person is speaking. So in terms of communications protocols, you might say one is a master and the others are the slaves, if it's a single master system. But then actually lately I've heard we shouldn't say master and slave because that could be offensive. So instead, let's go with the primary polling device and the secondary poll responder devices. And besides that rolls off the tongue better anyway, I think, back on topic. Why do people say that? And why does it get on my nerves. Okay. So let's explore that a bit. The statement, "Silence is gold, more silence is acceptance," is usually put out in a group conversation when someone is talking and trying to gather consensus. Of course, care, consideration, communication, and collaboration leads to consensus, not silence. Silence doesn't mean anything. It could mean the people in the group are, well, let's run through the list. They could be not listening. I mean, they could be listening, but not really concentrating. You know the expression, like, "I'm listening, but I'm not hearing you," kind of thing? So you can listen, but not really concentrate and not actually get the message. These days, because of our pandemic situation, there's been a lot of remote meetings happening. So if it's a remote conversation via teleconferencing, is therefore quite common at the moment, silence could mean their headset is broken, their microphone is broken, there's some distraction at their end and you just can't see it and you're not aware of it. There could be a loss of network connectivity, maybe the internet went down, their computer crashed. There's actually quite a lot of reasons why they didn't answer when you said, "Are we good? Yes or no? Silence is golden." Hmm. So, how should it be done? I guess setting up a meeting with a list of points to discuss with the group, go through the list point by point with the group and document and send out the results. Successful meeting, quick meeting. Oh God, that's another one. A quick meeting is a great meeting. Really? No. A quick meeting is just a quick meeting. It was probably a rubbish, complete waste of time and money, but hey, it was quick and that's what we know. Don't get me started. All right, I need to get back on topic. This whole silence thing seems to come from either impatience or out of a lack of respect. Let's talk about the impatience part. Did you run out of time? When you booked this conversation, this meeting, this group discussion, did you actually book enough time for that conversation? Were you keeping that conversation on topic, on track, or was it drifting all over the place because there were too many side discussions? Was the whole meeting just completely unfocused? Did you get just too ambitious in the agenda? "Oh, I can cover it all, no problem, and I've got two minutes." Uh-huh, yeah, no, probably not enough time. I mean, if there's an interest in getting to the end decision quickly, even though you had enough time, did you already decide in your own mind what the answer was going to be and you knew the result when you started? And maybe that last one is the start of our disrespect angle, because if you've already decided the outcome and you don't want to get true consensus, then you're not interested in collaboration at all. Do you actually respect the other people in the group? You respect them so much that you just prefer they didn't say anything? That's not really consensus. If you did actually respect the people in the group, would you ask for their opinion? I would've thought so. If you're just hoping for silence, then a quick "silence is acceptance and we're all done" would be just fine. But maybe if you had respect for other people and their input, maybe you would make space for them to give you a response. So how do you avoid doing this? So if you're the one doing it, I would ask you to challenge yourself as to why you're rushing through the decision. Force yourself to poll each person one by one and give them each a reasonable opportunity to respond. Suggest that feedback is always welcome, even when the meeting is over, in case that feedback might have been difficult for someone to give in a group setting. Some people are just not confident speaking up in those sorts of environments, and they may come and see you afterwards and say, "Oh, I was just thinking that there's one thing that's so bothering me." And you say, "Okay, great. Let's have that conversation." But if you just give people five nanoseconds to respond, say, "Silence is golden", put out your new procedure or document or whatever the hell it is, and then you're perplexed why no one follows it, and you don't get invited to meetings anymore. Well, you know what? Maybe that's your answer. I guess it's your call. What do we all think? Silence is golden. Done. Analytical is supported by you, our listeners. If you'd like to support the show, you can, by becoming a Premium Supporter. support is available via Patreon and through the Engineered Network's Apple Podcasts channel subscription. Premium supporters have access to early release, high quality ad-free episodes as well as bonus material from all of our shows not available anywhere else. We're edging closer to our monthly goal to go advertising free across the network, but we can only do that with your help. Analytical is also a podcasting 2.0 enhanced show, and with the right podcast player you can also stream Satoshi's as you listen, at whatever rate you prefer, giving you complete control. The choice is yours. Just visit to learn how you can help this show to continue to be made. You can follow me on the Fediverse at, on Twitter @JohnChichi or one word, or the network at engineered underscore net. Accept nothing. Question everything. It's always a good time to analyze something. I'm John Chichi. Thanks so much for listening. (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [Music]
Duration 7 minutes and 52 seconds Direct Download

Show Notes

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Episode Gold Producers: 'r' and Chip Salzenberg.
Episode Silver Producers: Mitch Biegler, John Whitlow, Joseph Antonio, Kevin Koch, Oliver Steele, Shane O'Neill and Bill.
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John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.