13 October 2022

Silence is golden


Silence is golden


Topic by Norma

Essay by Lawrence


It is relevant to distinguish between silence (silent) and quiet. Quiet relates to noise whereas silence is more related to vocal sounds such as speaking or even not expressing what one is thinking but intentionally not vocalising such thoughts. And, although, there are instances when it makes no difference whether we use silence or quiet, for our purposes we should be concerned with silence as an intentional act not to speak.


The idea of silence in speech is not unusual, and by speech we imply language acts. We find silence in the punctuation of sentences with the fullstop and the comma; when we encounter a comma we have to pause, or be silent, for a short while and the fullstop requires a longer pause. Of course, when we vocalise our speech these pauses are minuscule and we pick them out unconsciously. Learners of English may not have mastered these pauses and, therefore, find it difficult to distinguish the structure of the speech. Try reading a sentence without comma pauses at normal speed.


We can also claim that pauses in speech, whether vocalised or written, is part of the grammar (syntax) and semantic structure of a sentence and paragraphs. I would argue that this is evident by virtue that these pauses are intentional. This surely must imply that the silence we are interested in are intentional pauses and make sense in the context. A mentally impaired person or an intoxicated person might exhibit pauses in their speech but these gaps are not necessarily intentional but simply random acts of pauses.


Although this is a bit stretching the point, silence in speech in the form of a fullstop or a comma, can be a case of silence is golden by virtue that these punctuation marks make understanding a speech act much better. But the idiom silence is golden (“speech is silver, silence is golden” is considered a proverb see ref 1) is best used when negotiating with others (see ref 2).


But like all language functions, it takes skill and mastery to know when to be silent and what to say before being silent. When I was being trained in sales my manager always emphasised the importance of being silent when asking for the order. Theoretically, the first person to speak will lose: if the client speaks first they’ll end up buying the product, and if the sales person speaks first they lose the sale.


The MIT article (ref 2), which is a report on the scope of silence published in the Journal of Applied Psychology) mentions that silence “interrupts” the zero-sum thinking in negotiations and thus “foster deliberative mindset” resulting in both sides “performing better.” Indeed, silence can be used as a valuable means to think over an issue, which by definition one would assume had arisen from the face to face negotiations. But this move to be silent to think is balanced by the character of the person doing the thinking. Does the person being silent have the courage to break one of the rules of a zero sum game? That is not giving the impression that one is weak.


In a zero sum game, any hint of weakness might be seen as losing the argument and the negotiations. Of course, there is a difference between being silent to think and being lost for words. Not knowing what to do is certainly a sign of weakness, and this should not be betrayed by one’s body language. Silence to think requires, I would suggest, a body language that is convincing that one is thinking.


The appropriate time when silence is golden, is when “put on the spot” or challenged by the other side. Once again, this would suggest that the parties are indeed playing a zero sum game. An emotional reaction could easily antagonise the other side. that could easily turn negotiations into a conflict.


In any case, an emotional reaction might even reveal one’s intentions and letting the other party know what one is thinking is certainly a short cut to losing the game.


Ref-1 Silence is golden



Ref-2 Silence is golden: New research out of MIT’s Sloan School of Management suggests that extended silence during negotiations leads to better results for both parties



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PhiloMadrid meeting on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 16th October: Silence is golden


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