I’ve often said good leaders never assume silence means everyone is in agreement.

Especially during seasons of change the leader can’t assume everyone is on board because they aren’t hearing complaints. On one extreme people may feel there will be retribution for stating their opinion. The reality is leaders can be intimidating just by position – whether they intend to be or not. On the other extreme people may not say say what’s on their mind simply believing it would be something the leader already knows. But, all of us only know what we know. We don’t know anymore.

The leader doesn’t always hear what they need to hear, which is why good leaders ask good questions.

There is one caveat to this principle, however.

When a team is healthy – really healthy – so that the leader is approachable and team members know they are encouraged to participate in discussion. When there is no unresolved conflict or underlying drama. And, when people are on the team not just for a paycheck, but because they believe in the mission and love the team.

When the team is really healthy…

Silence can be interpreted as agreement.

That’s because:

  • The freedom to challenge is present
  • The fear of retribution is absent
  • The power of unity is prominent
  • The spirit of cooperation is elevated
  • The synergy of differences is celebrated
  • The collaboration of ideas has been utilized
  • The sharing of thoughts is welcomed

When you are on a really healthy team people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they don’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.

I’ll be candid, I’m not sure I have been there more than a few times in my leadership career. I’m not even sure we are there yet with our current team. We have new staff members and we are in a season of rapid change. But, in the months to come, I’ll be looking to measure progress in this way. I’ll be reminding our team of this principle and the ramifications of it.

A good personal evaluation for the leader is to ask yourself this question: What does silence on my team indicate?

If people aren’t pushing back against change what does that really mean?

And, for your sake, I hope it means you’re really serving with a healthy team.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Amy says:

    Unfortunately, you have to know how healthy your team is to know if the silence is a good sign. I think some leaders just assume things are fine if no one says otherwise. I’ve been silent in recent meetings because I know no good will come of speaking up, and I’m just trying to keep my head down while hoping to move on soon. Silence may be agreement or it may be giving up.

  • Wow! I know that a great leadership would lead into a great and a healthy team..Thanks!

  • Pastor Zach Malott

    Ron, I believe this is an area that many people overlook in leadership. Thank you for posting this as a reminder to all.

  • carmelchristine says:

    I've been on a lot of teams in business and in the past couple years in a church setting. I've seen a combination of outcomes as a result of silence. Yes, there are many who remain silent who are in agreement with the movement of the tasks toward goals but I've also seen silence from the fear of 'saying the wrong thing' in a public setting. I believe in listening well to follow the flow of the topics from everyone, tempered with a well thought out spoken idea of my own to contribute, no matter how it's received, as long as I also offer the gentle spirit of openness to clarify my ideas if someone heard it wrong. If silence remains, I can only assume it was not misunderstood and can move on. I'm a self-assessor and probably my own worst critic, making corrections for my next meetings and hopefully always bringing a sense of openness to receive the same from others. Silence can be golden but it can also make the facilitator feel they're a one-man team…

  • Thanks for the challenge today, Ron!

  • Honestly, no. The current team I'm working for has communication issues. There's a big move happening and we're struggling to properly communicate to everyone and during meetings most people are staying silent.

    It's been a real struggle and I don't know what's going to happen. In the end, I'm sure we'll make the move happen but in the in-between time relationships are being stressed and people are getting frustrated.

  • Piper says:

    I thought you were going to say donuts.

    You’re right in your post.

    Respect is a hard thing to garner in leadership from their team. Most people make the rookie mistake of controling or being a nice guy.

  • kmac4him

    Silence indicates a “reverent” life style, and is usually an indication of a person in a vital-vertical relationship with God. Silence is a heart connection with God that silently submits to the course of His wisdom, instead of the path of a babbling fool. I respect silence, because it honors God and allows His Kingdom perspective to come forth. It is easy to spill out a human viewpoint, the broad way; the narrow path gives way to silent patches and then breaks forth in streams of God wisdom. An impulsive nature that reacts is very rarely silent. My 1st response everyday comes from my first step out, which is always down, bowed down before God in Awe-Respect-Reverence-Honor. Silence is my 1st response to every day, I silently submit to God and it is in that first moment of my day, my impulsive nature is trumped by GOD! And let me tell you… that is a good thing, because sorry to say, my human condition is ragged with an impulsive nature and I need to put on Christ’s nature 1st thing every day! Silently Submit! Oh and it is so catchy throughout my day… silently submit. Wait on God! No reactions – all response! All IN! Psalm 62:5 My soul, wait only upon God and silently submit to Him; for my hope and expectation are from Him.

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