All silences are not the same. How you react to them is important. Below I will discuss some of consultant Eric Klein’s top reactions to different silences and explain how you can stay in the game.
Silence #1: “I don’t agree, but I’m not going to say anything out of fear”
This silence is generally a product of power imbalance. You might see this in the classroom. A professor may voice his or her opinion, but out of fear you do not interject. This is unlikely to appear in the writing center, as consultants make a point to present themselves on the same level as a student. They stress they are not in control.
What should you do? Klein states that you should “make yourself vulnerable”. He is really asking you to open the floor up for suggestions. Simply, do not say that your opinion is the only way.
Silence #2: “I have a different idea, but I know you won’t listen to me”
This can be looked at in two different ways: 1. a power imbalance like shown above or 2. the listener is quiet based on the enthusiasm placed in the other idea. I observed this scenario in the writing center. The consultant, who was also the instructor of the class, met with a group of students who were all completing independent projects. I noticed a few students perk up to several questions, but then retrieve into an uncomfortable slump immediately after.
What should you do? Speak up. Ask for feedback, but do not negotiate what you firmly believe in. This is when your words will become absolutely necessary.
Silence #3: “I have a concern, but cannot find the right words”
We’ve all been in a situation where we just can’t put into words what we are thinking immediately. Your audience can experience this same thing.
What should you do? If someone is visibly having a hard time with your idea, consider their point of view. Have you said something to offend them? Is the concept in a field they are unfamiliar with? Once again, this is all about considering your audience. In the same group consultation I mentioned earlier, I observed the consultant jump to ask clients if they understood immediately after he saw a look of frustration or confusion. Talk about being quick to react!
Silence #4: “I’m thinking”
Sometimes you will find yourself in what you think is an awkward silence, but really the audience or listener is thinking.
What should you do? Avoid jumping to conclusions. Everyone has their own mind, and therefore take a different time to process an idea. Adjust your pace to fit that of your audience. Supply appreciation may have a positive effect on your audience and avoid the awkwardness that you may otherwise experience yourself.
In order to react to situations effectively in the writing center you need to stay aware and on your toes. This may sound strange…after all, we are not talking about a game. But then again, a consultation is some what of an offensive-defensive game. In any consultation, you should be playing the game in reaction to the other side. A successful consultation is a tied game. If the client misses the shot, rebound the ball and start dribbling. They will come steal the ball back eventually, and your session will continue.