The English language is one of the most difficult languages to learn. That is, in part, because it is full of “sayings” or “idioms” that we use in everyday speech, most of which originate from cultures around the world. Such sayings make no linguistic sense unless you know the story behind them. Nearly all cultures pass wisdom down to us in stories and proverbs. Over time these stories are shortened to phrases, giving birth to these confusing riddles and idioms. One such idiom that dates back to the days of the Egyptians is, “speech is silver; silence is golden.”

This is wise advice to the child listening to his mom instruct him on what to do or not do, but in business, silence is not your friend. This is particularly true with individuals I work with on a daily basis in the career transition industry, such as those gainfully unemployed and recruiters looking for viable candidates for their client.

Here is what often happens. My client applies for a job, does not get a response, or gets an automatic, “thank you for your application,” message. Then the silence comes… for days and days. And it is in the silence that the situation starts to break down. My client creates a story around the WHY. “They must have Googled me and found xyz article… and have eliminated me from the candidate pool.” On the flip side, the recruiter or hiring agency may also be waiting for the candidate to follow-up, or perhaps they are waiting on their client to move the search forward. Again, the problem is the silence. The void of information, leaves us room to create a story, giving us room to build your reputation according to our perception. It is incredible really. Proof that human imagination is still thriving.

Here is how you can break the silence and take control of your reputation.

Keep in touch. Respond in a timely manner. Even when you do not have time to fully address a request or have an immediate answer; tell them that. Do not give them the opportunity to create a story. Stories created in silence are nearly always much more negative than the truth.

Remember: Both what you DO say and what you DO NOT say sends out a message. You bind your reputation to be what you want based on your behavior, which is entirely within your means of control. By responding and filling in the silence with your perception, you can build your reputation the way you want it to be built.

If breaking the silence is so easy, why do we not do it?

  1. We are not aware of our own impact on people. We do not realize that a simple communication from us, keeps others from judging us and creating a story to close the gap.
  2. We do not know how to say no, so we say nothing at all. While “no” might not be the desired response, it is an honest one, and at the very least shows respect to the person making the request, that ample consideration was at least given. People need to feel heard.

We need to do a better job closing the loop and in doing so we control our reputation. I continue to work on this area myself and strive to close every loop. To those I have not done this effectively with in the past, I sincerely apologize. The individual who consistently closes the loop separates himself/herself from the pack and will stand out in a positive way.

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Author: Jim Wiederhold

Jim believes his 39 years of experience--particularly his more than 26 years in healthcare--has prepared him well for what he does. His wealth of experience spans key areas, including finance, operations, management, leadership, sales and sales management, corporate, contingency, contractual and retained recruiting, outplacement and transition work and executive coaching.