Relevance Of Silence In Managerial Communication Management Essay

In this essay I have written, I tried to explain how silence is connected with business communication and how it effects the organization as well as its employees. This shows pros and cons of silent behaviour of employees. The first two paragraphs constitutes the introduction, telling about what does managerial communication means and showing the verbal and non-verbal aspects of communication. The third paragraph introduces the concept of silence in communication. The next two paragraphs of main body of the essay explain the reasons behind the silent behaviour of employees along with the examples. The negative and positive impacts of silence on employees and business are cited in next two paragraphs with the support of examples and references. The second last paragraph explains the ways to reduce the silent tension and communication facilitation. The last paragraph concludes the essay and makes a point that as silence cannot solve any problem, communication must be encouraged among the staff members so that they can share their ideas and complaints and thus help in business growth.



Managerial communication is an essential part of every business management function that involves gathering of essential information related to the organization and then its distribution to other people those require it. It uses both verbal and non-verbal symbols and signs so that others understand it. Along with a verbal message we always send a non-verbal one (Appelbaum et. al., 2000). For example when a manager plans something, he collects the information, writes letters and reports (non-verbal) and communicate with others to implement the plan (verbal). Non-verbal communication is the way that has an affect (either negative or positive) on the message conveyed in words.

Much is known about transmission of oral messages- what people say, how they say it, and how accurately listeners perceive the speaker’s underlying ideas. Such knowledge is considered especially useful when it comes to understanding the behaviour of people in organizations (May and Murphy, 2004) because the spoken words are prime currency of social interaction. If we define voice as expression of ideas, information, opinion, or concerns then silence is defined as withholding these expressions. It does not just include the silent aspect of communication but expressing the silence itself. Although it can be defined as “an absence of speech” but it is an effective communication tool (Wickens, 1995).

It can influence the communication positively as well as negatively. Also it can either develop peace or can create tensed and uneasy situation. For example, if a manager finds few of his staff members sitting idle, he may think that they are lazy and are therefore “goofing off” and therefore should be engaged with more work. But on the other hand if he considers them as good and self-motivated staff, he might think that they are taking a “well-deserved break”. Being personally insecure, he might think that his authority is being threatened by their idleness.

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Knowledge of the reasons behind the silent behaviour of employees is very important for the managers as it helps them for successful interaction with the members of the team. Albert Hirschman (1970), considers that silence can be a response to employees job dissatisfaction when the employees are loyal to company. Thinking that things will improve, they continue to suffer in silence. Silence can also be a way of individual’s reluctance to convey bad news as it carries lots of discomfort with it (Conclee and Tenser, 1973). For example, United Airlines flight 173 crash-landed into a wooden area of suburban Portland, Oregon, killing 10 people and seriously injuring 23. The failure of two flight-crew members to share with the captain their concerns about critically low fuel levels was identified as one of the major cause of the accidents (NTSB, 1979). Fear of isolation and feeling of self-doubt discourage people from expressing ideas that fail to conform to public opinion (Noelle- Neumann, 1974).

Some organizations develop norms that discourage employees from openly and directly expressing their dissatisfaction (Pierce et al., 1998). George Tenet (2007), former director of the U.S. Intelligence Agency, some analysts elected to withhold their doubts about the reliability of certain intelligence reports that laid the basis of Iraq war. “As a result, we passed the flawed information to Congress, the president, the United Nations, and the world (p.383).” Sometimes employees collectively withhold information, opinions, or concerns regarding work related issues (Morrison and Milliken, 2000). Believing that speaking up is futile; employees are compelled to disengage and to withdraw (Pinder and Harlos, 2001). For example, a senior surgeon at a hospital in Queensland, Australia amassed a startlingly high record of adverse incidents leading to serious post-operative complications and deaths of patients. Eventually, an official enquiry revealed that although they were aware of this, many colleagues failed to report the doctor to management for fear of retaliation and belief that speaking up would not make a difference (Sandall, 2005). Such cases of failures of expressing concerns or to convey important information are too common in organizations which can result in serious consequences for employees and the organizations for which they work.

Managers not only are responsible for solving problems of company but also the problems of the people working for the company. If employers and employees fail to communicate with each other and thus lack cohesion in working, business will not succeed long. If employees will remain silent and will not resolve issues by communicating with the managers, business progress will slow down. Silence retards company’s goal achievement if employees and employers do not work as a team due to lack of communication. “The silent treatment” given by the boss can be fearful as it can be his way of showing the hold on his employees.

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Due to organizational silence many of the projects and business fail as when managers lack communication with employees and they do not share problems persisting in the organizations. Sometimes they wait for someone to take the initiative and speak out about the problem. This degrades their confidence and decreases their productivity. Team members, when not able to support a task, remain silent and do not discuss their failures with team leaders because of their unwillingness to get engaged in the conversations due to fear of hostile disagreement. As a result, managers and team leaders cannot take any measures to solve the problem even for next time. Prevailing silence risks change as positive communication environment is necessary for avoiding distrust and suspicion (Appelbaum et al., 2000).

Silence conveys several messages whose meaning depends upon the individual who perceive it. For example, when someone is talking to a person and person remains silent throughout the conversation, the speaker may think that he is not getting anything or might think that he is trying to understand every bit of conversation. Sometimes silence signals disagreement, frustration, anger or fear of speaking. If a manager fails to pay attention to employees silence he will miss a vital part of message. A communication barrier leads to misinterpretation, information distortion (Hutt et al., 1995), limits the information with the employees who lack expression of their thoughts and ideas (Morrison and Milliken, 2000; Nemeth, 1997).

Some of deteriorating results of bring silent are depression, increased stress and demoralization, but it is also important to recognize that the decision to remain silent can be an intelligent, strategic choice, that may be the “best” decision available under certain circumstances. It can be an effective tool in communication when people can’t use words in order to express their ideas and feelings. For example, a new employee disagree with the proposal of management but he cannot express his disagreement directly as it could be considered arrogant and disrespectful. So, he chooses silence as a way of showing disagreement. Silence can be the way of showing respect and modesty to the top management (Leslie Perlow and Stéphanie Williams, 2003). It is wise to remain silent at discussions when you know nothing or know very little than to get involved in baseless discussions. In order to be a good listener, it is good if one is silent so that the speaker can communicate effectively. Small pauses in speech are other forms of silence and can be considered very effective when used properly but at the same time too many and too long pauses break the cohesiveness of speech.

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Use of Silence has negative as well as positive outcomes not only in business but also in personal life. Silence is the way of communication of ideas, values and emotions with other person without involvement of written or spoken words (Blundel, 2008). “Silence can facilitate problem-solving and learning”, (Robert J. Bies, 2000). For example, two of employees get into an argument and if one of them remains silent the argument will be solved early. Bies suggested that “Silence can be hidden in acts of voice, which can occur when people publically voice their support for an issue but fail to reveal true feelings about the matter.” Van dyne and her colleagues says that remaining silent on work-related information of organization that can benefit the outsiders is good, as it involves maintaining the confidentiality of the organization and not telling any information about anyone inappropriately.

Manager’s friendly attitude towards his employees will lead to effective communication and thus helps in solving the problem. Organizational factors play a vital role in shaping employees’ decision to withhold information and keep mum. Employee’s behavior is affected by manager’s attitude and when the required support is absent, employee’s silent behavior creates a gloomy and tight atmosphere as mentioned by Sanders and Schyns (2006). For effective firm operation, good relation must persist among managers and employees. When given support and authority to their employees, it generated sense of responsibility among them. This let them to speak up and share problems and minimize confusion and thus create positive relationship with managers. People like to listen to a constructive criticism rather than list of complaints and demands.

To wind up, we can say that silence is an important part of communication but has its own pros and cons. Silence can never be a solution to a problem but is an indirect refusal to solve the problem rather it creates unavoidable additional issues. Though, sometimes it is wise to remain silent for personal and organizational benefits, still it may lead to business failures. Therefore, value of communication must be appreciated and managers must encourage their employees to open up and communicate.

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