The Effect of Silence

We’re all so busy communicating with one another than sometimes we don’t realise the power – or the message – of silence.

I’m talking about the silence that follows making an offer or following up on a job half-done. Do you feel that you are more serious about a project than the person you are communicating with? Perhaps this person does not consider things in the same priority order as you do – or the job is less urgent than you suppose.

The question is ‘How long should you wait for a response’? One month, two months? What is reasonable if you are mid-way through a project and suddenly you are faced with a wall of silence and inaction? I usually try to ‘check back’ at intervals of a month, but if this lasts over 6 months then I begin to think that the project has just ‘died’ and I try to wrap things up as best I can. The problem for a copywriter is that the subject matter has to be fresh so that the creative juices can flow. What’s the point in picking up an old project, dusting it off, trying to remember what it is all about and then adding a new burst of creativity – only to see this new input languish for several more months.

No, sometimes you have to make a decision about investing your time in projects and judging whether they are dead or alive. Let me share two experiences with you.

1) I had a client in France who was happy with the work I had done. She launched a new website and I contacted her about it, suggesting certain areas to develop. Despite responding to me on previous subjects, this time she just did not respond at all – even when I mailed her a second time. Silence in this case signified a message of ‘Don’t bother me any more’. She could have responded with a brief polite email but she chose the more brutal method of total silence. End of story.

2) My brother introduced me to a friend of his who was setting up a website and asked for my help. I was glad to pitch in and in fact arranged for her a very inexpensive solution to a problem she had. I did not charge her for my own time (even though I had undertaken some work to push her project along). About two months ago, she just stopped communicating with me and did not answer my mails, phone messages or even a letter that I posted to her – all asking how we could move ahead. My brother advised me ‘Don’t get offended, just put this on the back burner until she decides to contact you’. Wise words.

The problem is that I do feel offended. I really put myself out on this job and at the very least I would have expected a brief response, such as ‘Sorry, cannot talk right now, will be in touch in X months’. But to freeze me out and then to ‘unfreeze me’ at some future unspecified date? I just went very cold on this job and decided to opt out.

That’s the thing with ‘communications projects’ – it’s the communication that’s the lifeblood! If somebody maintains communication with me, I’m ready to jump through hoops for them. But if they freeze me out, I go ‘cold’ and then there’s no turning back.

How much of what I’ve described here rings true with you? How do you deal with situations when people ignore you? I’d love to know.

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