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Silence vs Speaking Up

Never miss an opportunity to say nothing.


Being Silent

I have written on the value of being silent previously, just as I have written on the need to speak up.

The ability to choose between being silent and speaking up is a skill mostly learned over time through trial and error with often many painful mistakes.

Here are some valuable tips to know when to stay silent and when to speak up.

When to Choose Silence:

Silence is an underappreciated and underutilized skill.

  • Follow the 80/20 rule, with 80% being silent and 20% speaking.  The idea is to spend most of your time listening and less time talking.
  • Always give others the opportunity to speak first.  The chances are good that someone else will say what you were thinking. You don’t need to be first.
  • Know that staying silent can be just as powerful as the words you mean to say, like when the act of hugging will be more comforting than saying, “Sorry for your loss.”
  • If you are unsure of what to say, be silent. If pressed for a comment, be honest and say you are unsure or are confused about the matter.  It’s best to stay quiet until you are more certain because more harm can be done by revealing false or exaggerated feelings.
  • Choose silence instead of blurting out ‘in-the-moment’ feelings that are hurtful and not really how you feel in the grand scheme of things. When you feel the urge to say an unkind thing, take a few breaths and think of the possible consequences of your words.
  • Stay silent when someone is sharing a meaningful story. It is okay to let someone else dominate the stage and be the focus of attention.
  • Silence can be your best friend during negotiations. Say your piece, then close your mouth, and let the other person come to their own conclusions. Your silence shows that one, you are confident in what you just said, and two, you respect the other person enough to hear what they have to say.
  • Occasionally people are not in a position to hear what you have to say, and silence is the best and most timely remedy.
  • Practice being silent when you don’t have anything meaningful to contribute. Unless you can elevate the conversation by pointing out something interesting, missing, or beneficial, it’s best to just observe and learn.
  • Finally, silence is golden when you don’t want to engage in a fool’s argument. As some squabbles will never be resolved, one must agree to disagree.

When to Speak Up Loud and Clear:

There will be times in your life where you will need the power of your voice—the voice within you that wants and needs to be respected and appreciated.

  • Use your voice and speak up when your feelings are being trampled on. Many things are out of our control, but it is within our power to control the words and feelings that we convey to others.
  • Speak up for others who have no voice or are unable to speak for themselves for one reason or another. Your voice may be the only thing that saves and protects them from harm.
  • Speak up when you see a wrong being done as silence could be seen as complicit agreement.
  • Speak up when you are asked for your opinion, as the person doing the asking must value it.
  • Finally, speak up when you want to be heard. Whether in the workplace or a relationship, if you believe what you have to say is valuable, don’t be afraid to open your mouth.

The ability to choose to remain silent or to speak up takes confidence, but just like all skills, you only need to practice it in order to get better.

The Bible

Lamentations 3:26 says:

it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Notice that the bulk of reasons to speak up or to remain silent have to do with the resulting effect on the audience.

Your concern is your ability to convey a message to the hearer in a way that they will receive the message in the same tone and attitude that you wish it to be received.  If your message has the potential to be received differently than you want, stay silent.

So, to know when to speak or remain silent is dependent on knowing the mind of the person you are speaking to, something that few if any of us can do.

God knows the mind of the person you are talking to, so why not let Him direct you in your choice to speak or be silent.  He is there and ready to help; all you have to do is ask.