Silencing Behavior


I am a gamer. Have been since the late 1970s.

IMG_0231One day I was involved in a lively conversation about the Game of Thrones TV show and books in the game chat on my favorite MMORPG. Three of us had issues with the violence against women and children in the stories. I argued that putting it on TV (as opposed to in print where it can be skimmed or given less attention) was especially disturbing. I felt that such violent content was not necessary to a good story.

Suddenly, the person who really liked the show accused me of calling the show “bad” and “commadeering” (sic) the discussion.

Whoa.

This guy just tried to shut me down. He used silencing behavior.

Screech. Halt. Stop the flow of words. Meaningful communication ends. He hung up the phone.

In the last few years of my life, I realized that my entire family was terrible at dealing with conflict because there was no possibility of engaging in calm, logical discussion. Most arguments and disagreements quickly devolved into name-calling and “shut up!”

That is silencing behavior of the most childish kind, but it has many forms.

When that male player accused me of commandeering the discussion, he was saying that I wasn’t welcome in the conversation, that he had heard enough out of me. He was saying that I should be quiet. That is silencing behavior.

I am pretty good at at spotting silencing behavior because I lived with it for over 25 years in my marriage. As soon as I would start to make a point about anything, if I was right about anything, my husband would either rage, call me names, accuse me of being an ingrate, rebellious, not submissive, or call me ignorant.

I never once heard the words, “You’re right. I never thought of that.” Never.

And remember: I grew up in a family of silencers.

I realize now that those who practice silencing behavior are insecure.

Controllers use silencing behavior. Controller/abusers are insecure. Emotionally healthy, mature, and effective leaders don’t need to silence others.

I found an interesting article on the subject entitled, Are You Silent or Being Silenced? by Kimberly Tilley on LinkedIn.

Tilley writes about those who use silencing to disempower others:

“Once a person attains power over others – via money, influence, or information – he or she is in a position to set the agenda and make decisions that impact others. Most people learn to lead, and a few become great leaders.

However, when an insecure person obtains power, fear drives their actions. Fearful of losing their power or being superseded, they are affronted by suggestions, unable to tolerate doubt, and prone to anger if they are questioned. They use their power to repress others, to restrict conversation, or to prohibit open dialogue.”

Yes, yes, and YES!!!

Sorry. I had never read such a clear description of silencing behavior before. I read articles about how women often use self-silencing as a way to survive in business, government and academia, but not how others wield silencing swords cutting off the heads of dissenters (metaphorically, of course).

Tilley also writes about the Spiral of Silence and Groupthink. I was aware of the dynamics, causes and characteristics of groupthink, but was not aware of the label given to the polarizing behavior described as the Spiral of Silence. I recognized it as a phenomenon, however. I hate gossip because it has ruined important relationships and torn my family apart.

Groupthink is so dangerous that I cringe when I see it (mostly in the media and comments to online articles). Groupthink allowed the Holocaust to occur. Yes it did.

I appreciate the solutions to silencing behavior provided at the end of the article. I tend to get so upset that I am not sure how to respond.

It is all about awareness and change. I love that I can identify and learn to deal with behavior like this. Oh, and identify when I am using Silencing Behavior myself.

Yes, I can.

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2 comments

  1. Oh…I have done this on occasion. 😦 I didn’t realize it has a name. I totally get the power dynamic because I have used this behavior when I feel my power quickly dropping.

    Thanks for writing about this. I had been thinking about some of the patterns my son and I fall into that make me feel so yucky when they’re over.

    I wonder what strategies there are to confront the offender in a non-threatening way. Hmmmm. Or does one just let it go?

    1. Confronting the offender: it depends on the relationship whether you want to engage. I feel that I should speak up in public forums so that more people can become aware. In my own family communications, it is difficult to confront. We have these emotional patterns, reactions, certain words, accusations. From what I have read, the key is staying calm and not getting sucked in. I was so proud of myself when speaking with my estranged husband in a calm voice, responding with: “That isn’t your concern.” With my sons, at least the ones I see every day, we are learning to speak to one another, to communicate, without shutting one another down. My sons are learning to respect what others say. If there is respect, then silencing behavior should be a real problem. It is tough to address.

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