I remember a team call that went horrible bad. For some reason the atmosphere already alternated from ignorance to arrogance of the participants and not one idea made it through the devastating critics of the outnumbered naysayers. As a result noone wanted to share any idea, thought or update. It hit climax when the boss asked an important question and noone of the management people in the call wanted to answer. The silence weighted heavier than any argument could have.
I was reminded of this call when I recently went into another team call in which one team member ignored the question of the moderator. Even after offering three time the stage to share a thought (which is totally normal in that team culture), the team member stayed silent and did not share anything – obviously letting the moderator down. This was even more obvious as that same person had a talking role 2min later in the same call in which he was fully capable of sharing his thoughts. The silence and ignorance influenced the call atmosphere to the worse.
We know silence as a powerful tool in negotiations. It unerpins your argument. It makes you strong when you are in a critical communication situation. But it is clearly an act of hostility in communication. It is a proof of power and superiority.
There are rare situations where a well placed silence is a game changer – but if you see toxic silence in your team meetings you have a major problem.
If you have ever been tortured with silence, you know that it separats you from the other person. You loose trust. An unhealthy form of hierarchy – which is superiority – is stepping into the team or relationship.
Therefore, if you see toxic silence in your safe and loving team meeting (which needs to be ensured first!), get to your team mate in a one-on-one meeting, tell him/her what you have noticed and what you see as a result. Maybe your team member has a valid reason why silence was the only possible reaction. But maybe he/she was not aware of the impact that silence can have.
This is one of the reasons why I forster appreciation and wholeheartly applause in my teams. I try to build a culture in which we celebrate together and support each other. And this support also includes that we are supporting the moderator of a call by participating, cherishing ideas and bring in a good mood. And this behavior is independet on how I feel when I enter the meeting. These are values that I live to forster the team culture. And this behavior is called leadership.