Have you noticed that some people are quite chatty and others are sort of silent?

Silence can convey so many different messages across cultures. Silence can be used to express disagreement, surprise, sorrow, defiance, approval, embarrassment, obligation, criticism, calming, humility, regret, condemnation or consent and many more.

Americans believe that talking is good, that rhetoric is critical to self-expression. Often believing a person has greater impact by speaking rather than listening. Most Americans are uncomfortable with long periods of silence. Americans tend to rush through pauses and quickly complete sentences. The Western tradition is relatively negative in its attitude toward silence, especially in professional and social relations. Speech has a positive connotation and silence has a negative one.

Some cultures find that silence is a valuable component of nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication, which includes listening behaviors, is a critical component of social currency and it is very important to demonstrate caring and demonstrate understanding. The ability to substitute strong emotional reactions with polite silence is important for social harmony. The effort suggests the value of silence and its association with self-restraint.

It is important to consider cultural dynamics. Silence…to some…is golden.

America is a relatively task-oriented culture, and Americans often want to get to the point. A socially oriented culture may practice silence to build relationship. Silence demonstrates not just hearing, but real consideration and valuation of what is being said by others. Silence and listening is a key element in cross-cultural interactions and establishing trust.