What Other People Hear in Your Silence

Not all silences are awkward — especially when you assume everyone is on your side. Reseachers at the University of Haifa have just released a study looking into what people assume when those around them keep their mouths shut. Their results have pretty broad implications for a ride range of situations, and for what you should do in them.

It all comes down to something the researchers call the mirror effect. According to a press release, "people generally assume others are silent for the same reasons they would have remained silent in the same situation." This result came up whether a person represented a majority opinion or a minority one — in other words, if I'm talking and you're not, I'll think you agree with me even if nobody else does.

That doesn't necessarily follow, of course. A person may keep quiet for any number of reasons, from disagreement to disinterest to simple fatigue or self-consciousness. However, if the silent party never corrects the other person's assumptions, this can lead to problems down the line. Whether it involves office politics or managing money with a significant other, communicating with clarity and honesty is going to be best for everyone.

There are situations in which discretion is the better part of valor, especially when emotions are running hot and especially when there are imbalances of power at work. But if you don't want to be seen as on someone's side when you're not, or agreeing with something when you don't, make sure you speak up. Otherwise everyone else will speak up for you.