The Silent Treatment • being ignored or being spared?

Every few days I scour the pages of looking for a job. It is a bit like looking for a date on RSVP. I filter out the ones that are too far away, too boring and too conservative. My days of wearing a pencil skirt and blazer are over.

But unlike internet dating where my success rate was quite good, my emails filled with details about how fabulous I am go unnoticed. I don’t get feigned interest, or gentle rejections — hell I don’t even get brutal criticism about my lack of suitability, what I get is nothing at all.

I get the silent treatment.

It may have been a long time since I wandered into the job market, but I don’t remember being so blatantly ignored. I send off my carefully crafted cover letter, addressing each of the seventy-two selection criteria, and then … crickets.

Sadly, being on the receiving end of the silent treatment is a trigger for me. My parents and my late husband thought withdrawing all communication was an effective way of punishing me. Getting no response from someone catapults me back to a place I thought I had left behind, a place where I feel I am not good enough.

But perhaps those thoughtless potential employers aren’t punishing me, perhaps they are trying to spare my feelings. As the saying goes, ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’. I disagree. I would rather you tell me how you feel, even if it is negative feedback.

I am not a delicate flower that will fall to pieces at the first breath of a cold wind — I am pretty tough. I would rather you tell me I am too old, overqualified, too feisty, too weird or too scary for your organisation than for you to say nothing at all.

I would rather my boyfriend tell me when I am being selfish, or mean, or insensitive than for him to withdraw silently.

I think we all tiptoe around each other too much, worried we will hurt each other’s feelings. Our reticence is well-intentioned, but perhaps misguided. You can tell me about my flaws because I already know what they are. If you point them out, I won’t be offended, I will just try harder to do better in the future.

Don’t give me the silent treatment because I cannot bear it. I would rather have your criticism than nothing at all. From the first I can grow, change and transform, and from the second I learn nothing.

Would you rather hear the brutal truth or have your feelings spared?


About KatieP

Embracing my midlife sexy while exploring modern love & relationships • Devoted to all things beautiful • Master of Arts in creative writing & non-fiction writing

27 thoughts on “The Silent Treatment • being ignored or being spared?

  1. I am totally with you on this. Withdrawal and the silent treatment are also my triggers. I hate being spared my feelings. I’m a big girl, I can handle it. I don’t walk around in delusion about myself. Great article.

  2. I am guilty of using silence instead of confrontation when I am afraid or I find it a better choice than escalating an argument that isn’t (in my mind) worth the trauma. When I am on the receiving end of silence I can construct entire false realities as to why the crickets are serenading me….I get the frustration.

    1. There’s always a case for minimising the damage in an argument, but once the heat has died down, I would like a frank and open discussion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. It has been a long while since employers actually responded to job seekers with a “no”. Ignoring has been the preferred style, probably for lack of time. When I online dated, I didn’t always respond, either, if it was a ‘no’. My gay BFF always responds, at least so far; he’s new to online dating. I don’t take any of it personally.

  4. Truth every time. I still remember the post card I got from Disney when I applied in college. It was akin to that moment Clark Griswold punched the Wally World figure. Just lay it on me – you got zero chance because…

  5. I grew up with a wonderful father. Wonderful in every way but one. When angry, he’d give us the silent treatment. I cringed when I read your title. I’d rather be told the truth than be subjected to the silent treatment. With the truth – you have something to grasp hold of, something to work on, something to deal with. And while you ego might be bruised, at least it’s acknowledged.

    1. Acknowledgement — that’s the root of it all isn’t it? We want to know we’ve been seen and heard. Thank you for your wonderful insight.

  6. I am more of a nonconfrontational person so I guess I go by the “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all” theory.

    1. Well stop that right away, Missy 😉
      Perhaps there is a difference between acceptance and silent disapproval, but sometimes it’s hard to tell.

  7. If I’m not told what I’m doing wrong, how can I ever fix it? That was one of the longstanding complaints about a certain person’s lack of communication and then EPIC bitches about how I was *sigh*
    I always asked to be told. I always wanted to be told. I want to know.

    1. It’s frustrating isn’t it? With those close to us, we should always be brave enough to speak and hear the truth, otherwise our relationships are built on pretense. *sigh* indeed.

      1. Turned out there was a reasonable amount of pretense in the end, so I feel more and more that I’m better off and this was absolutely the right move to make.

        1. Funny how it works out that way. We spend so long scared of the future but when we finally leap, we discover instead of it being bad, it’s actually better. xxx

  8. I am reminded of the wonderful David Brentism from The Office, where he goes to pile of CVs sitting on his desk, takes the top half off the stack and throws them straight in the bin.

    That way, he explains, you avoid employing unlucky people.

    Having been on the CV reviewing side of the process, I can say that often it really is bad luck or something totally trivial that disqualifies your application. And standard HR processes don’t extend to providing a critique of the unsuccessful CVs.

    You *can* get feedback though. Friends and FB associates who are in business will usually happily oblige your request for comments about your CV and covering letter. Depending on who you are applying to, employers may respond if you call them asking why you were not successful.

    And at the end of the day,often the only way to breach that wall of silence is with persistence and a barrage of job applications. Eventually your CV will be one of the 50% *not* thrown in the bin, and one day someone will read it and want to see you.

    1. I’ve been on the employing end of the process too, but I always let people know if they weren’t suitable. I get the no feedback part, it’s just the deafening silence that’s annoying.

  9. Hi Katie! I, too, got the silent treatment in my youth…and I, too, am very sensitive to non-response…from anybody. Especially those who I know personally. texts unreturned. e-mails unreturned. phone calls unreturned. I never really put two and two together until reading your post. Thank you…it makes sense! However, I am also searching for jobs and I’ve submitted so many resumes and cover letters and answered filled out so many questionnaires for which I’ve received no response, and I’m now getting a little more numb to it, actually. And it’s so much work, right?! Quite frankly, I don’t even know if they cross anyone’s desk. Good luck with your job search!!! 🙂

  10. I would almost always want to hear the truth. One of the reasons my best friend is my best friend, is because she calls me out whenever I’m being pig headed or cowardly or rude or any such things she won’t stand for, and she knows I’ll take it and work with it rather than deny and get mad. I know my flaws, but sometimes I don’t notice when they come out.

    I’m happily employed for the next 6 months but I remember the agony of waiting for a response – which usually never came. How hard is it to reply to an e-mail? Or even delegate the reply? Oye.

  11. Oh my gosh I agree 100% I can’t handle the silent treatment. I think you are so right on that folks will think we will fall apart or something. I can take it – I’m a big girl now for god’s sake. Love this post.

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