It is in the silence that we must listen.

I was reading Seth Godin's blog this morning and again I came across a post that I would like to comment on.

He says:

"Not fade away

Most partnerships don't end up in court.
Most friendships don't end in a fight.
Most customers don't leave in a huff.
Instead, when one party feels under-appreciated, or perhaps taken advantage of, she stops showing up as often. Stops investing. Begins to move on.
No, I'm not going to sue you. Yes, I'll probably put my best efforts somewhere else.
Just because there are no firestorms on the porch doesn't mean you're doing okay. More likely, there are relationships out there that need more investment, quiet customers who are unhappy but not making a big deal out of it. They're worth a lot more than the angry ones."

I can't begin to tell you about how many times this exact thought has crossed my mind. Perhaps the thought was not as well organized as Seth's post, but the content of his post has crossed my mind on many occasions. I very frequently encounter situations where an individual has assumed that things were running smoothly because there were no complaints. He comments that "just because there are no firestorms on the porch that doesn't mean you're doing okay" and then mentions that quiet customers may not be happy but are just not making a big deal about it. It is true that perhaps most of them are quite satisfied but I would like to take a look at and comment on this attitude of interpreting the silence. 

It isn't normal for everyone to walk through life just assuming that everyone is unhappy and that in the "quiet customer" or in the "quiet friend" there is an unhappiness with the service/attention given. I do think however that Americans in general tend to question the silence a bit more than others. I recently gave thought to the idea that perhaps I was raised to be less naive about my friends and those I come into contact with. I never looked at silence as a sign of satisfaction. I have always felt more uncomfortable around people who are even keel. When there is no emotion expressed, my red flags go up. Perhaps this is a mentality passed down from my entrepreneurial great-grandmother or perhaps it is an American mentality. 

If I go one step further into this (as I am about to do) then I would like to draw attention to the idea that... Americans read words. We have been programmed to read words because we don't express as much through physical contact.  We need to take the words that someone says, the intonation with which they are said and combine that with the body language that projects those words and only then do we process it. I have only been able to recognize and understand this a bit more while living here in Brazil.

For someone who is not used to reading through words,  it can become a confusing process (as I have recently encountered with an American who lost contact with the culture) to learn how to communicate this way. I like to think of it as the process of waking back up and becoming less naive, since you inevitably have to look past the easily faked physical contact and literally see peoples words. It can be a very painful process to become aware of people's true feelings. Most people would prefer to live in oblivion and hear only what someone chooses to communicate to us. However, when your position or friendship depends on not  doing that, then you must learn to read the words being spoken and listen during the silence.

Last Wednesday, I was having a discussion with one of my students when something about this subject came up. The student is about to travel to the USA and she is very worried that she will feel bad once she arrives there. She has heard from several people that Americans don't greet with a kiss and won't usually express satisfaction with seeing someone through physical contact. As a Brazilian she is used to reading through body language. She knows that when she sees a friend after a long separation that there will be lots of hugs and kisses and the persons body language will tell her that they are happy to see her. My discussion with this student drew me to the conclusion (one that I expressed to her) that... Just as much as she is reading the body language, Americans are telling you the same thing through their words. Just because we are ot invading your personal space, does not mean that we are not happy to see you. Stop for a moment and listen to what we are saying, it is through our words that we are expressing our love and happiness with you. Perhaps later she could sit down and read her friends blog and find out what he/she truly felt when she arrived. :)

Where does that leave me though... someone who was raised as as a very vocally expressive individual who communicates primarily though my words, and is now learning to express myself physically as well. I guess it leaves me being very confused about who is saying what, and is leaving me very sensitive to the vocal and physical silence. Not expressing to me either vocally or physically how you feel leaves me empty and unsatisfied with you. Like I said... even keel is not my thing. So, the way I see it, just as much in the professional world as in the personal one, I need to find a balance between the two. The ideal mix of physical and vocal expression. I need to fill my life with those who can maintain that balance as well. I need people around me who can hear me when I speak and when I don't. I need to be around people who will let me hear them as well. Those who prefer to sit in silence have not yet learned that one important step in human development, to allow others to feel and fill in the voids. 

Bringing this back to Seth's post... I think that whether you live in a physically expressive society or a vocally expressive society, you will ALWAYS need to pay attention to the quiet ones. We need to remember that they exist and that perhaps they are not as happy as we think they might be. Perhaps we could find a way to make them a bit more satisfied and turn them into happy talkative costumers/friends. If we leave them to their silence, we may potentially lose them.

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