Radio Silence: How To Respond When Others Don’t

1. I sent off some photos to a client who I was really hoping to impress. I had worked hard on them. I was proud of what I had made, but I wasn’t sure if it met the expectation of the client (making art is often like that, isn’t it?). The client was excited and had asked about them, once or twice. I created an online gallery and emailed the link over. Then I heard nothing back. For days, it was radio silence.


2. I wrote a blog post that I felt really connected to. It felt vulnerable and honest. Many of my posts feel that way, but this one was particularly so. After I published it, I didn’t hear anything back for a long time.


3. I gave a talk at a grad school to a group of prospective students. I presented my theory of meaning in work and how to pursue it— material I’ve been wrestling with, working over and over. Though I could see and hear some responses during the talk, I didn’t have any significant interactions about what I shared.


These three moments all left me in a similar place. I had done something that I felt was meaningful but I did not have significant feedback to tell me how it was received.

They all left me with silence.

Silence is a tricky thing, yet it happens all the time. It’s such a regular occurrence, that Stacia and I have a few names for it. We call it radio silence or (more often) just “crickets”. When I tell Stacia that I’ve heard “nothing but crickets”, I smile every time— which helps ease the tension.

The deeper you step into your life’s work, the more of yourself you will be putting into the things you do. It can be risky and vulnerable. You’re making, writing, saying, and asking for things that matter deeply to you.

And yet sometimes you put yourself out there and don’t get a response.

The temptation is to fill the silence with judgements and assumptions.

It went something like this for me:

(Warning: you are now entering my internal dialogue…)

1. The reason the client didn’t respond is because he doesn’t like the photos. They’re not good. He’s disappointed and doesn’t know how to tell me. He hasn’t responded because he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.

2. No one commented because the blog post was a flop. Maybe it was too simple? Maybe it was too much of my experience and people (you) couldn’t identify with it?

3. Maybe no one wanted to talk because I totally missed the mark with what I shared. Maybe my ideas aren’t as interesting as I think they are?

(Now exiting my brain…)

Though some of these could be true or none of them may be; yet those are the places that silence takes me.

When your risk is met with silence, where does it take you? With what do you fill the silence?

There are always other and more kind stories to be told:

1. Maybe the client saw the work and enjoyed the photos, but has been too swamped at work to respond.

2. Maybe the blog post was right on and thought provoking, but not in a way that encourages discussion. Maybe it felt like a complete thought to the readers, and they (you) didn’t feel the need to add anything.

3. Maybe the prospective students were working on discerning big decisions: which grad school? and/or grad school vs. no grad school? Their attention was full of many other things.

I quickly fill the silence with judgements and criticism of myself, my art, and my work. I am quick to assume the worst. Recently I’ve been paying attention to this and trying to offer counter stories that are more kind to me.

I believe in the things I do. And I know that sometimes things don’t come out quite as well as I want them to. But silence doesn’t mean failure. Silence does not mean that your work is bad. In fact, silence may not even mean your work is neutral (not good, not bad, just “meh”). Silence may be the result of many factors.

When I think about it, I did not respond outwardly to some of the deepest and most impactful moments in my life. I don’t comment on every blog post I read (though I comment more now than I ever have!).  I don’t always share when I’ve been moved with the person whose voice moved me.

There are many reasons for radio silence. Don’t assume the worst.[tweet that]

If you feel the need to fill the silence— if you need some feedback — try asking for it. I do this often:

1. After a week of waiting, I emailed the client and asked if he had anything to share.

2. I could have emailed it to a few friends or readers and asked for feedback. I could have explained the insecurity I was feeling about the post and asked if they could help me know if my fears are unfounded or not.

3. I asked for feedback from a couple staff members who were at the event and found that they had many good things to say.

Don’t let yourself fill the silence without questioning what you’re filling it with. There are many reasons for radio silence.

In the comments, I’d love to hear about your relationship with the “crickets”. What do you do when you risk and don’t hear much back? Click here to jump down to the comment section.

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21 Comments

  1. cathe June 13, 2014 at 6:41 am

    Dan – This post on silence was really awesome! it made me think hard about what I do when my words/art are met by silence, and it also made me more aware of places and frequency when I have been silent to someone else, feeling something deeply but somehow mute. Often I have to let someone’s meaningful words sink in a while, like these in your blog, just let them hang, often for weeks. The words’ relevance often is a delayed awareness. Sometimes I write them down on little pieces of paper, and put them in a container I call “gifts”. They work their way back to me often.
    When I teach to small group, maybe 12, I have blessed eye contact, and when I say something and I can see their body language as engaged but seemingly unresponsive, I know there has been some meaningful connection. But when there is no verbal response , I’ll often say, “OK, so how did that land?”. I let my heart tell me if I should just poke at it. That usually brings about some comment that gets me information on the relevance of my words, and possible need for more, or not. Large groups, I think you just go on faith.
    And learning not to need the feedback, just being OK and secure with the sending, is something I try to practice every day. When I am secure in what I’m sending, I need less feedback than when I trying out something newer. If I’m not grounded when I say something, I often am limited in how I judge their reception.
    I sometimes pretend that I am the wind, and breathe out asking for my words/thoughts to land where they need to. And that the words coming to me will land if they are true for me.
    Thanks. Cathe

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland June 13, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Thanks so much Cathe! It’s great to hear your experience with silence. I like the practice of being secure with the sending. That’s a great way of phrasing it. Thanks for your wisdom here.

      Reply
  2. Mallory June 13, 2014 at 6:50 am

    I like being in your brain — it sounds a lot like mine.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  3. Jill Porco June 13, 2014 at 8:47 am

    I’ve had a lot of radio silence in my job search. It makes sense to reframe the doubts in one’s mind with something more positive. I am working through a book called “What’s right about me” and the authors.have those exercises in which I am forced to look at the.positives in my self and my life. It’s been very helpful in terms of my job search because that can be quite a demoralizing process. Especially with radio silence when the employer doesn’t get back to you. I’ve.realized that it’s external factor as to why they don’t get back to me, probably. This loss me to move onto the next thing and not dwell on the past as much.

    I’m also realizing that searching for jobs in publishing and not getting any may be God’s way of telling me that my path lies in other directions, ie writing or counseling, my other passions.

    Anyway, I am looking at the radio silence as information received as to that my path may need to change. And that’s good info to have at this point in my life.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland June 13, 2014 at 9:06 am

      Hi Jill! Thanks for your thoughts. The job search is especially tough when it comes to hearing back 🙁 I’m rooting for you— that you find right job and/or the right path forward!

      Reply
  4. Kim June 13, 2014 at 9:05 am

    Radio Silence… I like that. I have experienced radio silence enough to have taught myself a few coping mechanisms. My most recent experience was when my friends asked me what I wanted to do for my 50th Birthday. I emailed back that I wanted to take the train somewhere for a day trip, see the country pass by, enjoying my friends company, etc. The idea sounded so grand to me…. Crickets.. 🙂 I guess my idea of grand is not the same for my friends. I chose not to let my feelings be to much hurt by the lack of enthusiasm for my birthday idea. A month has passed and everyone is NOW asking about “When” are we taking the train. I am okay with everyone not jumping on board. I am on my own journey and sometimes I am my own best travel companion. Its my journey, its my trip and I stand behind my itinerary and if you want to jump on board… be my guest.

    Reply
  5. CathyB January 29, 2016 at 4:12 am

    Thank you so much for this post. I had very sad experience with radio silence in November, and so when I find it again I am having such a hard time sitting with it, wondering, not knowing why I am getting it.

    Reply
  6. CathyB January 29, 2016 at 4:18 am

    Thank you so much for this post. It soothes to consider your points, and to know that I am not the only one who experiences and struggles with a lack of response.

    I had a very painful experience with radio silence from a very extroverted new acquaintance just as I was leaving Los Angeles after 24 yrs, this past November, and was saying a lot of goodbyes to people I had known for years, It happened suddenly a month before I left. As I experience another situation with no response I am getting echos of that silence, and I do want to keep in perspective what is mine and what is real. Asking for feedback in dating situations is hard, once you have put yourself out there in response to a request to text, but I am encouraged to try once to see if my msg was missed, and then let it go….

    Reply
  7. Sherry April 27, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Feedback is the perfect pat on the ‘back’ to our minds’ & soul. To survive without such…is to be confident that the message did indeed reach the intended and because it was said or sent from your own inner self…it was right from the very beginning, since you are speaking not of what they wanted to hear..but of what you really wanted to convey. That in itself…makes the statement unbelievably perfect so radio silence can be perceived as the receiver can not grasp this because A. They are reading it from their mind & not their heart or B. They can not reply from their heart but only their mind. Therefore, nothing is brought forth. The path of least resistance…is what a great percentage of people strive. Not everyone is walking the unbeaten path such yourself. Be confident it was said, absorbed by the listener & awe could be the answer for the perfect silence. Fearlessly be yourself…everyone else is taken. 🙂

    Reply
  8. Lysa Greer May 5, 2016 at 5:32 am

    I just had this happen. On the first occasion, the radio silence was for 4 weeks with an established client. I tried to give space, then email reach out, then text reach out (because we were had in prior occasions texted before) and – nothing.

    I then send a heartfelt ‘gosh, not sure what’s happening’ email, and then, she re-appeared. We talked about how she had been busy, etc. I mentioned that I totally understood, but that in the future, I would need some sort of check-in to be sure our projects were on track. This was a retainer client, by the way…had been working with her for over 6 months.

    Then, not two weeks later, the silence came back…this time, it was 7 weeks…she would pay her bill, but never would reply to ANY messages. I decided to terminate the relationship.

    I did it nicely, even offering that we switch to a project-to-project basis, but again, even that was met with silence. She paid my final invoice and that was that.

    Feels SUPER crappy – but, I think in this case, I had no choice. At some point, you have to call it.

    Reply
    1. dan May 23, 2016 at 11:27 am

      Wow Lysa! That sounds tough, but it also sounds like she understood why you needed to terminate. Good (but hard) work!

      Reply
  9. Servant April 10, 2017 at 8:05 am

    This happens at work all too often. It can get annoying. I have learned to follow up through a different channel if this happens, and it even then it may require several additional messages. I’ve wondered whether people sometimes, not all the time, need an extra amount of commitment and courage to respond? Also, is the tech medium we use so often not personal enough for people to feel accountable or connected to the conversation?

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland April 10, 2017 at 9:10 am

      I couldn’t agree more, Servant. Sometimes a good follow-up is well worth the effort to see what’s happening on the other end 🙂

      Reply
  10. Kiersten September 3, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    I very recently experienced this in a cross section of my personal and professional lives when I learned that a former colleague who was also a friend had told my then-employer (and her only-recently-former employer) that I was considering leaving for another job. The result was a very unpleasant confrontation with my boss, in which I was made to feel guilty and pressured to resign or take a demotion. I feared for my job security because I was still waiting to hear back from a prospect.

    I sent a very respectful, but straightforward, text message to this friend, basically expressing my surprise and hurt, and inviting her to clear things up. Crickets.

    I let several days go by, and then reached out again to explain that I interpreted her radio silence to mean that she was confirming my suspicion and wasn’t interested in preserving the friendship. Only then did she respond to say that I was “attacking” her and that she was unwilling to engage with me via text. No response to the actual subject matter. More crickets.

    I’ve let a week go by to think it over, and just wrote her a letter explaining how I felt and inviting her to respond in any way she chooses, taking great pains to be straightforward without being aggressive or mean spirited. We’ll see how long the crickets last this time. Maybe she’ll surprise me =)

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland September 7, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      What a tough situation Kiersten. I hope good news comes your way!

      Reply
  11. Tom October 22, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Hey Dan, I just caught the headline of this article on Twitter and immediately resonated with me. I always wrongly assume people are ungrateful jerks when more than a few days go by after I do something I feel deserves recognition. The thing that bothers me the most is when I take the time to answer a question from a student or follower and they don’t reply with a quick thanks. In one sense, it truly is upsetting when people don’t show appreciation for these kind gestures, but in another, I should know better than to expect a pat on the back for every good deed. Where it comes to client feedback after sending work, however, I try to build in the opportunity for feedback at various points. For instance, I show my work in presentation decks first, before sending final files. I make sure not to send final files until I get their feedback of the work as presented in the deck. At least I know the client has accepted the work enough to request files, and thus, the final invoice. After all, if a client pays for the work, I don’t have to worry if they’re thankful! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Dan October 23, 2018 at 3:24 pm

      I love this Tom!

      I like that you have built in response points for paid work. That’s something I’d like to implement more intentionally.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond here. I really appreciate it!

      Reply
  12. Dani April 3, 2019 at 12:20 pm

    I become paralized by assuming the worst with negative thoughts. Ultimately, I end up ignoring the situation and letting anxiety manifest without any form of closure. In retrospect, the lack of closure accumulates and magnifies the anxiety for a similar situation in regards to “crickets.” But after reading this article, it gave me a different perspective and a better course of action. I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

    Reply
    1. Dan April 3, 2019 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks so much for the thoughts Dani! I’m so glad it was helpful 🙂

      Reply
  13. Anna July 7, 2019 at 12:41 am

    I have a good friend that I recently reconnected with. He used to respond immediately to my messages and even said he waited for them, but now he responds less and less. He still says how much he enjoys them, but I’m wondering if after 4 months he’s tired of communicating everyday? I’ll admit that everyday communication is a lot, so maybe that’s the problem. I don’t have an expectation of talking to him everyday, but I fear that he thinks that.

    Reply

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