Calculated silence is sometimes a form of passive aggression. It is defined as a calculated way of using communication in which silence plays a crucial role.
The goal is to control or weaken the other person or their situation. People manipulate not only with words but also with silences. This latter tactic is extremely toxic because it wears a mask.
We call it calculated silence because it is not final, such as when someone ignores you or stops talking to you. This kind of manipulation combines agreement and disagreement, expression and lack thereof. This is all performed in an apparently random way.
It is the manipulator that determines the rhythm of communication for its own purposes. The other person is nothing more than a resource.
For silence itself is a very ambiguous form of expression. What normally happens is that the victim starts to feel very confused and anxious. He doesn’t know what to think and spends a lot of time and emotional energy guessing what each silence means. He feels insecure and doubts every step he takes…
Often, victims of this type of behavior end up thinking that they are the problem. In fact, they just don’t know how to interpret the silences and end up placing too much value on them.
What does calculated silence look like?
Calculated silence comes in many shapes and sizes. A very common type starts when the manipulator always wants you to be the first to talk about something. It’s not politeness. They let you talk in order to hear you out. This is how they obtain information about you and study you.
However, be careful. If someone has stopped being the first to talk about something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are manipulating you. The behavior should be frequent and constant. It must be conscious and one-sided. The person does not talk much about themselves or does so in an evasive manner.
Another form of calculated silence is when people suddenly cut off all communication and then pick it up out of the blue. They stop answering calls or messages without any explanation.
But later they let themselves be heard as if nothing happened. And if you ask them why they were so distant, they’ll tell you there’s nothing wrong. You’re just wrong.
And then there’s this kind of calculated silence where a certain kind of censorship is applied to specific topics, without any explanation. When you try to bring it up, the other person will avoid the topic and be vague about it.
Of course we are talking about topics that are important to both people. The problem isn’t that one of them doesn’t want to talk about something specific. The problem is that it is systematic and he gives no reason for it, but is aware that this attitude affects the other person.
Finally , a very common form of calculated silence is keeping quiet about something that it would be better for the other person not to know. This applies to matters directly related to the person for whom the information is being concealed. Some people call it ‘ playing hard to get’ . But that is completely wrong in this case.
Words are powerful and so is silence
What distinguishes a manipulative silence from a spontaneous silence is the intention. Anyone who uses the strategy of hiding behind an absence of words is doing so for the purpose of controlling the other person.
These types of people know very well that it creates discomfort and uncertainty. And let that be exactly what they want to achieve. When they hide behind silence, they leave the other person without any means of answering.
We should not confuse manipulative silence with shyness. Not everyone has the ability to communicate spontaneously. There are people who need time to express what they think and feel. They don’t talk because they are shy or insecure. But their goal is by no means to exert control over other people. It’s to protect themselves.
Calculated silence is distinguished by the effect it has on the other person. It is interspersed with seemingly ‘normal’ communication. The lack of words makes people feel like something is being hidden from them.
Because it’s subtle, it’s hard to deal with. There is a fear that others will accuse us of paranoia or fabrication. But, as subtle as it may be, it does a lot of damage in a relationship.
This kind of silence can end up being totally aggressive, especially because it makes communication cloudy. Misunderstandings and guesses become the norm. And abuse like this is hard to disclose except for its effects. If a person cannot subtly stop this toxic behavior, the only appropriate response is a direct, explicit rejection of it. And take some distance.
Images Courtesy of Pablo Thecuadro