In todays quickly changing world where a focus is often on fast response and quick action (search for “action bias”), silence and not taking action or speaking can often be frustratingly hard.
Not only can not speaking be interpreted as not knowing, being out of ideas or as not being passionate about succeeding, progressing etc. A faux pas in our industry if ever there was one. You might even be blamed for not taking part if you stay silent. I would like to bring up a different perspective.
Reasons I might be a “silent” teammember
I might need a mental break. The last working session may be straining my mental capacities. Perhaps taking a break is a better idea than forcing action.
I might be thinking. Not everyone can or likes “thinking on their feet”. I certainly do not. I have a very hard time thinking creatively or reflectively while at the same time speaking or merely making myself heard. Perhaps there is simply not enough space (periods of silence) for me to collect my thoughts and be able to contribute.
I might not think I have have the emotional, physical or mental safety or capacity that is needed for me to speak out. Or interrupt. Calling me out to do so might even make me feel less safe or more stressed. I may simply have spent my mental energy already and cannot bring myself to contributing.
I might not be following along. I might have been left behind, mentally because of my own doing, distractions or my lack of context, skill, knowledge or information. I might need time on my own or with someone I can trust to catch up.
Instead of speaking
So, what can I do? As a member of a team with a silent team member or as a silent team member myself?
Perhaps time is better invested switching to a different task? Or spent taking a break? Just getting up and going for coffee (or a beverage or snack of your choice)? A change of scenery? A walk?
Perhaps I need a short working session on my own to collect my thoughts? Perhaps we better sleep on something if we cannot seem to make progress as things are?
Perhaps the problem we are dealing with is simply not something that can be addressed quickly, simply or even immediately? The actions suggested above can contribute to gaining more context or a slightly different perspective without which we are forced to make mistakes.
Perhaps we can just stay silent
Sometimes. For a few extra seconds or even minutes. It can feel very awkward, uncomfortable or plain unproductive at first. Let everyone catch up, collect their thoughts, work up their courage, rationalize their actions, step forward.