Misinterpreting Silence

One of the biggest mistakes I have made in my professional and personal life is misinterpreting silence. While I have gotten better in dealing with silence in my personal relationships , it is something that I continue to struggle with as a recruiter.

The silence I am referring to is a lack of responsiveness. For example, let’s say I am working closely with a candidate and suddenly he stops returning my phone calls. My immediate assumption is that he is mad at me or believes I did something unethical.

In fact this is rarely the case (and with respect to doing something unethical, hopefully never the case.) Instead, here are some of the things I often learn when a prospect has been incommunicado: I find out he was sick, he was completely overwhelmed by work because another associate was out on maternity, a family member died, he was moving his office, his computer crashed, he was traveling. In other words, his lack of responsiveness had nothing to do with me and did not reflect a lack of interest in the reason I was calling (much as I’d like to believe in my own egocentric world that I am the cause of everything.)

Still, it is hard to reverse a deep seeded psychological reaction to something. So if you are wired like me and not sure what to do (i.e. when you are trying to reach a prospective client, opposing counsel, a senior partner, etc. and they are not answering) here is the strategy I use:

1. Don’t ignore your own feelings. You feel rejected.
2. Talk about the feelings with friends and family to get it off your chest.
3. Wait a few days and try again using a different medium (use voice mail if you last used e-mail or try leaving a message with a secretary if you’ve already tried the other 2 methods.)
4. Think of all the reasons why you might not be able to return their call (i.e. try to put yourself in their shoes.)
5. If the problem persists, ask them if they are angry with you.

We live in a very busy world and many professionals are struggling to keep up with the multiple demands on their time. In such a world, it pays to be persistent. Don’t presume you are annoying someone just because they don’t call back. Don’t presume they are not interested. Try again. You will be rewarded with better work, better feedback, more clients and overall, a great sense of career satisfaction.

Leave a Comment

17 − 2 =