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Silence – Golden? Not Necessarily

For this first week of August (during some summer holiday time), please find below the fourth most popular blog from 2016. If you are inclined, please provide your comments on why you think this one was so well-received.


The proverbial expression “silence is golden” is often used in circumstances where saying nothing is considered preferable to speaking. “As with many proverbs, the origin of this phrase is obscured by the mists of time. There are reports of versions of it dating back to Ancient Egypt. The first example of it in English is from the poet Thomas Carlyle, who translated the phrase from German in Sartor Resartus, 1831, in which a character expounds at length on the virtues of silence.”

Incidentally, the fuller version used in Carlyle’s writing is “speech is silver; silence is golden”, which is a phrase that is still sometimes used, although the shorter form is now more common.

When it comes to being in conflict, silence can, of course, be a positive response – when listening to the other person to take in her or his point of view, needs and expectations. Silence though is not always a positive response when it is perceived as dismissive, condescending, disinterest, avoiding, ignoring and other words that conjure up the perception of lack of engagement.

This week’s blog invites you to consider the use of silences in conflict – yours and the other person’s. Please consider both types of scenarios as you answer the following questions.

  • In a specific situation in which you chose to be silent, what was it about?
  • Why did you choose silence?
  • How did being silent positively work for you? For the other person?
  • What made using silence not the optimal choice for you? For the other person?
  • What did you say, if anything, when you spoke?
  • What happened in a conflict situation when the other person remained silent?
  • How did that positively work for you? What didn’t work?
  • What do you wish the other person had said that you would have preferred to remaining silent?
  • In general, when is silence not golden, from your viewpoint? When is silence golden?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

Originally posted October 4, 2016


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