3 Messages Leaders Listen for in Silence

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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 dropping by your office to give you the latest glowing reports on the success of the project.

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

Pay attention to this 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 to be found in silence. There will be fewer contributions in 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 will become more of a solo act.

And the first indicator of this is silence.

You won’t hear them celebrate team wins and you’ll hear very little enthusiasm for progress towards the organization’s goals.

Pay attention to this silence of low engagement.

In almost every case, 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.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.


  1. Agree with the second two points, but I caution misinterpretation of the first. There are people who let their results speak for themselves. They aren’t self promoters, and aren’t prone to ‘overcommunication’ as a course of business. Yet they consistently perform at a high level.
    As always, if you have any questions…ask!

  2. Thanks for input. You’ve raised an important point; discernment is always important. These are not hard and fast rules; more guidelines that can help a leader pay attention to what the silence might be saying.. I would agree with you that, when results are strong, some leaders will indeed let those results speak for themselves. But there will be times where results are poor, and in some cases that leader could choose to remain somewhat quiet about things. Thanks again for weighing in.

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