Maybe Dale Carnegie had it mixed up when he published his classic work How to Win Friends and Influence People. Maybe he should have written one that would be much easier for most of us to achieve — How to Make Enemies and Offend People. I think Jesus might have qualified to write the forward for that one, actually.
But you and I can do this pretty effectively ourselves by what we say. Unfortunately, we can even do it when we don’t say anything at all.
Sometimes, we choose to be quiet when we should be talking. We choose silence and think that we’re not saying anything. Not true. [See my post Silence Speaks: What You Say When You Say Nothing at All] We get scared, maybe for legitimate reasons, tuck our heads in our shells, and shut up.
We like think that we choose to be silent in order to not make enemies and offend people. The reality is that sometimes our silence can do the opposite just as effectively.
It’s Easy. Here’s How.
We can make enemies and offend people by choosing to be silent when…
- They find out later what we we really thinking about them. How many times has this happened to me! I sit on my thoughts for fear of offending someone, but then my thoughts come out later in another form and — wham! It’s a hundred times worse now, because the person thinks I must not think much of them if I didn’t tell them before. And they’re likely right. I had this blow up on me once in a big way when concerns I had about another elder in a church got back to him via a pastor who was supposedly offering me advice on how to address the issues. Not good. And no, the relationship did not recover.
- They walk away thinking our silence means we don’t care. Some people are wired for words. They crave words of affirmation. Call it their love language. Call them extroverts. Whatever — just be sure to call them, or at least say “Hi,” or they will be offended. Don’t feel like it? “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus….” It took a handful of feedback from students and teachers to conclude that my not greeting them each and every morning when we passed in the hall, meant — to them — that I didn’t care about them. Never mind that I had already greeted 50 other people before seeing them in the hallway. Seriously, never mind that. It’s irrelevant to person 51.
- They are offended by their own interpretation of our silence. That’s right. Some people will be offended by what they thought you meant when you didn’t say anything to them. I recall a misunderstanding I once had with the mother of a student. She told me that she had been offended by something I didn’t say. Apparently a few years prior to our conversation, I had greeted her husband and shook his hand in the one night at a school event, but I had not greeted her specifically and did not shake her hand. I really had no memory of the interaction, but it had definitely made an impression on her and had affected every interaction that had taken place between us since. Unbeknownst to me. As I explained to her, I was raised to think that a gentleman does not shake a lady’s hand unless she first offers it. Bottom line — I asked her forgiveness for the oversight, assured her I had no negative feelings toward her, and learned a key lesson in how damaging silence can be when the other person fills in that blank with their own insecurities. We all do it. Best to be proactive and intentional about how the silence gets filled.
What harm have you seen come from choosing to be silent? How have you managed to inadvertantly make enemies and offend people? Leave a comment with click here to help us all grow.