This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

By now you likely know I’m an advocate for personal risk-taking in your relationships as a necessary part of building trust. If you’ve practiced what I preach, you may have found yourself in an uncomfortable spot or two as a result. It happens; that’s why we call it a “risk.” Here are three tips for what to do when your risk-taking leads to … crickets.

Let’s say you send your client a message (voice mail, email, SMS)—such as reaching out for no other reason other than to say hello—and don’t get any response. The sound of silence is nearly always nerve-wracking for the one who initiates communication, unless you’re an unusually relaxed and well-balanced person. (I am generally neither relaxed nor well-balanced.)

Consider three basic options for how to handle your client’s lack of response, in order of most to least self-possessed:

    1. You could let it be. Perhaps you’re generally cool as a cucumber and you know that, more often than not, people don’t respond to you simply because they’re busy. They innocently lose track or forget. You are masterful at keeping your self-orientation in check, and therefore you don’t make the absence of a response mean anything bad about you. You simply move on, confident that you’ll hear from them, or reach out again, when the time is right.

I, for one, am not good at this option. I am good at pretending to let things be, all the while … stewing.

    1. You could try again. By this I mean you could re-deliver your message, perhaps with no changes or only very slight tweaks. You’re not quite chill enough to do nothing, but also not so self-preoccupied that you feel compelled to overengineer anything. You figure they just missed it the first time, so you do it over.

I’m only marginally better at this option. I get caught up in worries about nagging. Besides, what if they still don’t reply—then what?!

    1. You could take an even bigger risk. Since I’m not really good at 1 or 2, and since I’m an aforementioned fan of risk-taking, you’re likely not surprised to learn I like this one the best.

What do I mean by “an even bigger risk?” Consider this excerpt from an email that my co-author, Charlie Green, sent to a client the other day on the heels of a high stakes engagement (minor edits made to ensure confidentiality):

    “Not having heard back from you, and being a naturally paranoid person, I’m left guessing whether:
    (a) You’re extremely busy;
    (b) You’re on a glorious vacation where you’ve unplugged from all your devices;
    (c) My reach-out was horribly off-putting.
    “Naturally, I gravitate towards (c). For both our sakes, I hope it’s (b).”
    I love this. A lot. It’s human. And it’s funny. It’s a way to reach back out and raise the stakes at the same time. (BTW, Charlie got an immediate response. It turns out the client was extremely busy. They both had a good laugh.)

Sometimes we take risks and sometimes clients go silent. Consider your next best trust-building move is the one that defies logic—taking a risk on top of a risk.

Make It Real

This week, look for unconventional ways to break the silence with your clients. Bonus points if anything you do includes a clever multiple choice.

Learn More


Read about the three-second rule of silence (yours), from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or read about storytelling as a way to build a culture of trust in Chapter 29 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).