Everyone is competing for attention these days. Whether the venue is politics, Hollywood, the workplace, or at home, typically it is he who is loudest who gets the attention.
I’ve recently discovered however, that there is something to be said about the power of silence and its ability to attract attention. Quite honestly, it’s pretty awesome, and you have to be pretty stupid to screw it up.
Following recent events that have taken place involving the Akron Police Department (see previous post), a group of us officers decided it was time to publicly show support for the officers involved in the incident. We weren’t looking to be featured on the evening news, or have our pictures posted in the local paper. We just wanted Akron to know that we were standing by our fellow officers, even though it had seemed many (read ambulance chasers, local media and other rabble rousers) had found them guilty.
Someone decided that it would be a good idea to get together and attend the city council meeting, where one week prior some of the local citizenry attempted to disrupt the meeting, in order to express their displeasure with police defending themselves against an armed man who pointed a gun at them.
Aah, I already hit save, so if you don’t like the way I worded it, too bad.
At this meeting though we didn’t yell, we didn’t speak, we didn’t even carry signs. We stood silently, most of us in civilian clothes. You can always tell who officers are though–our hair is usually shorter than everyone else’s, and our facial expressions and body language reveal more gripes than our discourse ever could.
There were about 35-40 of us there, speaking only when necessary. We stood until the meeting began. As council members entered, they took a look at us. Some literally stared. By the expressions on their faces, you could tell they wondered what we were doing there, and what might happen.
As it turned out, nothing happened. Council members took care of the business at hand, and the meeting was adjourned. Then, the Mayor invited us into a separate conference room for a meeting.
Now, for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know, the Akron Police Department and Akron Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic have a less than amiable relationship and for various reasons. I very rarely ever agree with him, but I give him credit for having invited us into a meeting that could have been very uncomfortable and tense for him and us.
While we didn’t have a group hug at this meeting, he did listen to our concerns and he explained his position. While most of our concerns didn’t really concern him anyway, he still opened up the floor for questions, occassionally inserting some of the brutal honesty for which he is known.
I wondered if he would have taken a meeting had our approach been different. Would he have been as willing to hear our concerns if we had been holding up signs and yelling? I don’t think so.
What’s cool about silence as a way to be heard is that it is based on civility and, whether or not it’s intentional, respect. It communicates to your audience, “I’d really like to speak to you so, when you’re ready, I’m ready.” I think the impression of civility and respect helped nurture the environment necessary for productive communication.
A similar approach should be taken in the PR field when it comes to dealing with the media. Many journalists complain about the junk PR folks try to sell them on, and it gets old. If you’ve got a product or a story you want the media to tell, don’t bash them over the head with it. Don’t attack them with e-mails or phone calls. Although total silence won’t work either, do just enough to make your presence known when you need to. They’ll notice your silence, and it may leave them wondering if they’re missing something.