When someone does something that displeases you, what is your initial reaction? If you are like many, your tendency is to raise your voice, but it may be more effective to do the opposite. Silence can be a more powerful tool in your supervisory arsenal.

A colleague recounts the story of an employee who erred and after she gave her explanation and mea culpas, he sat there and nodded. The silence was more unnerving than a reprimand would have been, and she said so. “Aren’t you going to yell at me?” she asked. No.

In a vastly different arena than supervision, the puppy training manuals encourage the same treatment when the dog has an accident. Instead of scolding, ignoring the puppy and giving it the silent treatment is claimed to be more powerful. Puppies want affirmation and affiliation so instead of scaring it, shun it and behavior modification will come more quickly, or so the theory goes.

While I am not advocating for silence in all (or even many) situations, saying nothing does have its role. If the deed is already done, the person has acknowledged the error and learned from it, there may be nothing more meaningful to say.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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