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I'm a junior project engineer in small technical engineering team (not software or IT) and my line manager is an experienced technical person with extensive managerial experience. I have come up against his use of calculated silence a couple of times and have inadvertently parted with perhaps more thoughts/feelings about our work than I would have liked.

What typically happens is that after I answer his initial question, he stays silent - eventually, to break the silence, I cave and blurt out more stuff whether relevant or not.

Other than staying silent myself after I've initially answered, are there any other tactics I could use in this situation?

What experiences have people had in similar situations? An insight from the manager side would be interesting as well.

  • 2
    What is the problem with you sharing more information? – David K Jun 22 '18 at 14:13
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He wants you to start talking.

He wants you to start stepping through the problem and demonstrate how you want to address the issues at hand. If he's experienced as you say, then he wants you to learn more without him having to spoon-feed you what needs to happen. If you make the right approach, he'll re-engage and lead you further.

If you truely don't know what direction to move in, then ask him. It's unlikely that he'll ignore a direct question.

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An insight from the manager side would be interesting as well.

Speaking as a (former) manager I'm puzzled as to why you see this as a combative situation.

If you have more to say to the last question.. then just say it. If you don't then you can always ask your manager something like:

Is there anything else you need to know?

  • Try this thought experiment. Say something/ask a question to your significant other and they sit there looking at you stony faced and silent. How does this make you feel? – Peter M Jun 21 '18 at 15:21
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    A manager that actually lets you talk ... – pmf Jun 22 '18 at 14:10
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During the cold war, the Soviet diplomats would use similar tactics to get concessions from the west. It is a very powerful negotiating tool.

You can combat this in two ways.

  1. Say everything you need to say all at once.
  2. Hold back and greet his silence with silence of your own.

But, with this type, always be very aware of exactly what you want to say, what you are saying and how you say it

You may want to pick up a book on negotiations or sales as well, to help yu learn how to deal with people like this.

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Ask if he needs anything explaining differently.

It could be that he's the type who takes a few seconds to think on what you've said, and the silence is there for processing space.

If you find the silence becoming a problem, ask if there's anything that can help, or if he wants you to explain it again. That way you're both engaged.

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If he's asking a question, and you're answering - and then he isn't responding to your answer, there's really a few things to think about.

Firstly, as the other answers indicate, you may need to examine your own answer:

  1. Did you take the time to understand the question before you answered it? Sometimes it helps to parrot the question back: "What I think you're asking is, XYZ. Here are my thoughts on that:" This way, you're giving him the chance to correct you if you've misunderstood the question.
  2. Did you provide a complete answer, including any justification? Maybe, you could try: "Here's what I think: XYZ. And that's because, ABC" This way, you're "showing your work" in the sense of explaining what you're saying.

He may be holding back his thoughts because he doesn't think you're giving a complete answer, and he's expecting you to realize that and finish your thoughts.

Secondly, you can be proactive and make it clear when you're done talking (and therefore expecting a response from him.) Try something along the lines of,

So, my solution is ABC. What do you think of that?

Or,

That's what I think. Can you provide any insight?

This way, you're putting the ball in his court and making it clear that you're done talking and you're expecting a response from him.

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I would not recommend trying to out-silence your boss. They want you to say something you maybe rather wouldn't say, so don't say it. Instead, you can say something else.

Two main options:

  • Take the silence as a cue to move to the next topic at hand. This will make you look energetic.
  • If you don't have a following topic, that could mean that you are done and you could use the silence to open up into general chitchat. This may look like a weaker move, but you can hardly be blamed for inquiring about your boss's children.

In both cases, if they actually wanted to continue talking about the previous topic, they will have to explicitly move the conversation back. That puts the ball back in your court.

What this will do to their satisfaction with you is another matter but I don't really appreciate this kind of psychological warfare in what should be a non-adversarial working relationship.

  • What positive effect do you think this action will bring? It could be seen completely out of context – DarkCygnus Jun 22 '18 at 15:15
  • I think this is hardly worse than one of the other suggestions to outsilence them. In any case you can take the silence as an opportunity to move forward. If they want to revisit this topic, you will force them to make it explicit. – Alper Jun 22 '18 at 17:43
  • I'm not saying that what you are suggesting is wrong, just wondering why would OP would want to do this and what benefits can it bring to them (and perhaps so you can add more detail to your answer). On another note, saying "I think this is hardly worse than one of the other suggestions" is no valid excuse to use, in case someone said your post was wrong (which again, I am not saying). – DarkCygnus Jun 22 '18 at 17:49
  • I'll amend my answer later to make it more serious. Thanks! – Alper Jun 22 '18 at 17:51
  • No problem, adding your reasons why would surely help readers understand your answer better – DarkCygnus Jun 22 '18 at 17:53

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