The Power of Silence

If you are reading this in a quiet place, stop for a moment and listen. What do you hear? I hear a morning dove, traffic and the clang of the Phoenix Light Rail in the distance, aircraft overhead, and children in the street. I immediately felt more relaxed and focused. New ideas for this post popped into my head. For some people however, silence can be uncomfortable. Here are a few examples:

Shocking but true: students prefer jolt of pain to being made to sit and think” – An article from The Guardian based on research published in Science Magazine. The abstract reads “In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts.” Wow, so much for “silence is golden!”

Microsoft’s new anechoic chamber has broken the record for the quietest place on earth last year. You can see the details at This is great for testing acoustic products, but articles such as “Experience: I’ve been to the quietest place on Earth” point out that “Ironically, far from being peaceful, most people find its perfect quiet upsetting. Being deprived of the usual reassuring ambient sounds can induce fear…”

Faras_Saint_AnneThe same holds true for companies where silence can represent both positive and negative possibilities. Silence has not been kind to Yahoo as they continue their slow slide into irrelevance. I haven’t visited in years and rarely use Flickr photo sharing (a Yahoo company). The latest headlines from yesterday, “Yahoo’s job cuts: Will they be layoffs or stealthy firings?

In comparison, although much of the recent noise about Apple is bad, what is not being said is good. The bad headlines read “Apple Must Remember To Fail With Style,” “Apple shares plunge 5% as iPhone sales slow,” and “Apple: The iPhone Reality Distortion Field.” However, the silence speaks volumes. As highlighted by Quartz in an obscure article, Apple made more revenue from iPhone in a single quarter than Google has ever made from Android. Also, a recent headline from the niche Apple website 9To5Mac reads: “Apple takes 92% of smartphone market profits on just 20% of sales.” People love and use Apple products so heavily that they are willing to pay a major premium for them. In this case, “actions speak louder than words.”

A few companies I work with have no idea what the silence is saying about their products and services. Over the years, I have regularly gone on customer visits with salespeople only to find key accounts that are unhappy, but have given up complaining because there are better options in the marketplace. The salespeople don’t complain either. Why should they bother? It takes time away from sales activities, no action is taken by management, and it can bring unwanted attention on them. They just move onto the next prospect and another customer is lost.

So how can the “code of silence” be broken? Here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Collect feedback from application and support engineers AND ACT ON IT!
  • Ensure that management evaluates all issues brought up by sales: positive and negative.
  • Have a non-employee attend industry events to uncover the “word on the street.” It’s amazing what people will share over a couple beers in a hotel bar at an industry conference.
  • Groom talent that cares about customers’ issues and needs

Next time we’ll take a close look at the last item since it is a key to some of the biggest success stories in business today.