How to Interpret Silence from Your Audience
Photo courtesy of Karie Tegtmeyer.

How to Interpret Silence from Your Audience

Written by Emilie

Topics: Guest Posts

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Andy Mort.

When I started my blog, I spent days crafting each post.  It was a thankless process of writing, re-writing, editing, scrapping, metaphorically screwing up the digital paper and often starting from scratch over and over.  I would pour absolutely all of my being into it – my emotion, time and silly amounts of mental energy.

It would then take a long time for me to get to a place where I was willing to publish, and even at this point it would take an enormous amount of will power to actually push the button.

At the end of the process I would invariably be exhausted and petrified of what people would say.

People are going to hate me!” I would think, as I refreshed my email every couple of minutes, anticipating the barrage of abuse.

At this point however, something unanticipated (but standard) would generally happen…

Silence.

I would refresh my real time Google Analytics: 50 visitors.  But none of them made a peep.

They must be so repulsed by my words that they are speechless,” I would irrationally declare to myself slumping deep into my chair with a throbbing head.  “Perhaps I’ll just give up this writing thing.

This would happen time after time.  As far as I was concerned I was following the rules, delivering what I believed to be decent content, under compelling headlines, but still no one was engaging.  What was I doing wrong?

And then occasionally I would cross real world paths with people who had been following what I was writing, and invariably they would tell me how good they found what I was doing on the blog, asking about specific posts that I had written.

I was thrown.  I had convinced myself that people hated it because of the silence, but this was perhaps not actually the case.

As I continued, buoyed slightly by the fact that there did seem to be people listening, I began to grow into my voice.  I became more comfortable with my style, the ideas I was dealing with and the way I was expressing them.  Then I had a small epiphany…

It became evident that the silence was not actually an enemy.

It was not the deafening call of ‘stop!’ that I had previously assumed.

No, it was actually the encouraging wave through of permission: the space for me to play, to discover and to experiment.

People will reach out once you’ve established trust and context

As I persisted, my readership grew steadily, readers were sharing my content, and comments were trickling through to old posts as well as the newer ones.

It struck me that I behaved in much the same way when looking at a blog for the first time.  Before I was happy to comment on and share their ideas I needed to be able to trust the writer, and for trust to happen I would require context.

Context comes from many things, but can be provided by previous posts, the About page on the site, and social networking updates (to name a few).

So, I concluded, when I was starting out and had relatively few posts, my context was thin; readers were still sussing me out.

Then, the more I shipped, the more people became confident that they ‘got me’, and so they grew more comfortable as I grew more comfortable (in a trusting, rather than lethargic way).

We need to embrace the permission of silence in our lives

When all is still and we are greeted by quiet, the possibilities are endless.  We can step into it, make ripples as we begin to explore ourselves, and play with the ideas that compel us to act.

We are not at the end, we never will be.  We are deeply embedded in the process of discovery; the unearthing of our voice (our art), we are forever creating and subtly redirecting our context with everything we do.  As we step forward the silence is our friend, it gives us the space for trust, for authenticity and for a renewed sense of self.

Think about the things that you do which are met by quiet.

Now see them as a part of the creation of your context – stick with them and embrace the permission that you have been given to explore the potential possibilities of your endeavors.

Your Turn

When your ideas are greeted with silence do you see it as permission or pronouncement?  Does it inspire you to explore deeper or make you want to curl up and disappear?

Andy Mort is a UK based musician and writer. He has been described as having a “daring and innovative approach to creating and releasing modern music, which has proved him and his alter-ego Atlum Schema to be a bright beacon in the depths of British music today.” To apparently compound this description he released his latest single as a mask, more information about which is available from AtlumSchema.com where he also writes a blog on creativity, art and things that inspire.

33 Comments

  1. Shanna Mann says:

    Andy, this is so great. I’m so glad you addressed this topic. I’ve found as well that people would rather approach you privately to tell you you had an impact on them… commenting is too public.

    Raam Dev also suggested to me that if you give people a lot to chew on, they’re not going to comment, at least not right away. So that gave me a lot of support— because I’ve always strived to be thought provoking.

    • Raam Dev says:

      If a post is thought-provoking, I rarely leave a comment unless I happen to have something to add right away, which usually isn’t the case because I’m still processing and reflecting on what I just read. (Shanna, you gave me the “in” to add these thoughts here by mentioning something I said, which allowed me to relate back to that and contribute these additional thoughts, otherwise I would’ve taken Andy’s post and reflected on it in ‘silence’, because I did find it thought-provoking.)

      I think thought-provoking posts can certainly be written to encourage reader feedback, but sometimes your style just gives people the room to reflect.

      The other big thing I’ve discovered with comments is that the more you invest in replies (i.e., take the time to ingest, reflect, and respond thoroughly instead of just saying “Thanks for the comment”), the more likely your readers are to engage and share their thoughts. It’s all about building a reputation as a writer who takes reader feedback to heart.

      • Andy says:

        Well thank you guys for your kind comments. It’s very nice to have had so many – the silence has been thwarted! :)

        I think Raam, you’re totally right about the chewing aspect to not commenting as Shanna, you alluded to. There are often times I will even start to comment on something but then change my mind because I need to think about it more. Great ideas require digestion, but then I guess convincing yourself that’s why people haven’t commented on your post is a whole new level – I have confidence issues at the best of times! :)

        Setting up a dialogue as you say is vital too. I feel, coming to all these comments like I’m really learning the truth of what I wrote – it makes more sense, and you feel a heavier weight of responsibility in a way when people (strangers) connect with it and interpret . It’s the exciting, AND scary part! So, thank you!

        • Shanna Mann says:

          Raam, Andy, once I noticed my own reactions to having great, authentic, vulnerable posts that didn’t get comments, I sure went out of my way to comment on others’.

          Recently a blogger talked about having a bipolar episode, and how that affected her blogging. I don’t have much experience in mental illness, I didn’t know what to say, but I kept that tab open for over an hour until I had some words to offer, because I now know acutely how naked you feel when you do that.

          It’s not that people don’t connect with you; they do. But they don’t tell you about it and the lack of feedback can be terrifying. So it’s just made me more mindful of making sure to speak up, especially when someone’s worn their heart on their sleeves, or changed the way I think about something.

  2. I think you put your finger on something important: readers are looking for context and want to get to know you before interacting. I also think these days a part of the interactions that used to appear in the comment section of a blog happens on Twitter or others social website. A comment on a blog seems so much more “definitive” and important than a casual tweet. Great post! :)

    • Andy says:

      Great point, that’s very true – it often seems like a more meaningful dialogue that happens in the comment section now rather than a simple ‘great post’ as may have been in the past. That is usually included with the sharing tweet now (ie ‘check out this great post by… about …’ or something). Good observation!

  3. Holli says:

    Wow, wonderful post. This happened to me on Friday: A casual acquaintance in RL, and a on my G+ circle expressed that she’s loving my writing (blog). I had no idea she even read it:)

    So, thank you for sharing this nugget of truth. I especially love this:

    “We are deeply embedded in the process of discovery; the unearthing of our voice (our art), we are forever creating and subtly redirecting our context with everything we do.”

    A band I love, We Are Augustines, have risen from the ashes of a former band, Pela. During an interview, the lead singer said, “When we create we are working on ourselves.” That really struck a cord with me (pun intended).

    Cheers!

  4. Denise says:

    BEAUTIFUL post. Great topic, unique perspective. Love it. (:

  5. Ivan Chan says:

    Andy, thanks for reaffirming something we all know but are often too scared to accept.

    The silence from your audience – whether that be blogging or life in general – is like a mirror. It’s a way for us to reflect on who we are and be comfortable with ourselves FIRST.

    If we can do that successfully and confidently, in time our audience will follow.

  6. Adam Barratt says:

    Yeah, interesting point, well made. I wasn’t really sure what impact, if any I was (am) having as most people tend to stay silent whether they liked it or not (or even saw a given post). I have had people send me a private message/email or thanked me when I’ve seen them in person and encouraged me to continue.

    Ultimately we shouldn’t need praise as we should just be doing it for ourselves but we do want to positively influence other people’s lives and sometimes it’s nice to receive that acknowledgement (it also makes the blog look a little more popular!)

    People are a bit apprehensive about displaying their views publicly and would generally rather sit back and wait until it’s safe to act. Over time, exposure, other social credence, they will feel more confident to get involved. It just needs a few ‘renegades’ to take the punt and the momentum builds.

    I think people should keep on doing what they’re doing. If you know your truth then there’s no problem, people will warm to that in good time…

    • Andy says:

      Yeah, you’re right about the fact we shouldn’t need praise – that is very true, and I suppose everyone is writing for different reasons, I guess it goes deeper than praise though to more of the feeling of connection. Having that knowledge that you are connecting with other people is a really profound and exciting thing – Sometimes a lack of comments can feel more like a lack of understanding than a lack of praise and at the end of the day we all want to feel understood!

  7. Josh says:

    Awesome. This needs to be said to those starting out more often. When it happens to me, I just go boohoo, but then know I’ve gotta get over it. Like me, people have other things to do besides look at your stuff constantly. I just realize I gotta stick with it longer. It doesn’t feel nice though. At least a bad review would acknowledge it’s existence. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Andy says:

      yeah totally – it’s all about ploughing on and not taking things personally. i bet many potential great writers have given up before they allowed themselves to flourish.

  8. Victoria says:

    I link to my posts on my personal accounts on certain social sites, and man do I get far more comments there than on the blog posts. It’s a bit frustrating (especially when the conversion rate is basically zero!), but … at least people are enjoying the stories and art and posts?

    • Andy says:

      Yeah that’s similar to what Raam and Shanna were saying at the top of the comments – that social media has kind of taken the place of comments in some respects. It can be frustrating because it’s good to get a dialogue going between readers as well as a two way conversation between individual readers and the author (which is generally what social posts limit you to). Let’s just keep commenting, be the change we want to see. :)

  9. Emily Rose says:

    Andy,

    I never really thought about it like this before!

    I got very few comments when I first started out, and now that I have been writing more and more frequently, people are engaging, both on the both and in the social spheres. I have also been tuning in more to my voice as a writer and instead of hiding it, I am letting it shine more and more.

    I think its fascinating how this perception sheds new light on the subject of silence on a blog.

    Great Post!
    -Emily Rose

  10. amanda says:

    I wrote this? No wait, you did, but you were most definitely living the same path as I.

  11. It’s an interesting point but what I think you’re describing when you took your silence to mean that your audience didn’t approve were your own limiting beliefs. If you’ll permit this because I think anyone who enjoys this post will find it useful, we have a very useful article over at Life’s Too Good on Limiting Beliefs which includes a very simple exercise on how to identify and tackle your limiting beliefs.

    Obviously in your case Andy, it sounds like you got the feedback you needed in the end anyway to realize that silence means nothing in particular one way or another and in fact your audience really liked what you wrote (I have had similar feedback and wondered myself why people who sound really engaged don’t comment because they would also get more value that way themselves – some people just don’t like to comment or don’t even realize it’s an option, however obvious we make it).

    Great post Andy, thanks for sharing,

    take care & best wishes,
    Alan

    • Andy says:

      Yeah I think there is an element of a lack of belief, or at least something that becomes a lack of belief due to the lack of tangible engagement. I don’t think I ever posted anything I didn’t believe in, but not receiving any direct feedback would make me question my ability to convey what I was trying to say. But realising that it takes time to develop this and more importantly to develop your platform and bond with your audience is a freeing discovery and can then lead to a renewed belief in the fact that there’s more to it than simply being bad at what you’re trying to do.

      Thanks for the response, and the link. Just had a look. Very important issues you address there!

  12. Josh says:

    Seems like this post had enough context for everyone to comment :) My small blog has been having a few comments trickle in, but not very many. I think you’re right about having to build trust for the reader to comment. Often when I comment, I’m afraid that what I’m saying might not be relevant (or rather, it might off the mark).

    I relate it to asking a question in a classroom – sometimes you have a question or comment but you’re afraid to speak up because you’re worried everyone will judge you for what you have to say, so instead you keep quiet and ask or comment in private. This often happens ‘behind the scenes’ in blogs, via twitter and e-mail. It takes a lot to through your comment out there with your name and website attached to it.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    • Andy says:

      Haha, that’s exactly what I thought! What a lovely surprise. :) I get that too, everyone else always seems much more clued in and intelligent when I go to post a comment and I often feel like I’m missing the point entirely. Glad I’m not the only one! The classroom analogy sums it up perfectly – I like that. Really interesting thought – I wonder if there is any way to make the quiet ones among us feel comfortable enough to say what we’d like to say without that feeling. I don’t think any of my teachers ever achieved it…

      Thanks for your insight.

  13. Love says:

    Right now I don’t have comments active on my site but I do have them on my videos. When I encounter silence I usually want to curl up into a ball and hide. It makes me feel like what I am doing is not good enough to even get a negative comment, much less a neutral or positive one.

    But I do have to remember that I have only recently started this aspect of my business and I have to find ways to establish trust to hopefully, finally, get feedback.

    • Andy says:

      Great to hear from you! Yeah absolutely. Don’t worry about it, just keep on producing what you believe in and the trust will come, the audience will build. I love the look of your videos – the one on your home page advertising the art show is great. I’m sure it’ll build – especially if you make sure everyone involved with the events etc get connected with it. I don’t know if you’ve considered putting an ‘About’ section on your website, but I was thinking that I’m not entirely sure what it is you ‘do’ so to speak. I find that once I know that I know what it is I’m sharing and what I’m connecting with. I hope that makes sense. Do get in touch if you’d like to talk more about that.

      These are very useful resources for getting that sort of thing established: http://www.problogger.net/learn/

  14. Ann-Sofi says:

    Thank´s for this post – as a VERY fresh blogger, this is so comforting to read – I think I´ll print it out and post it by my desk so I remember it :) For sure the scary feeling of seeing lots of traffic on your blog but not recieving any comments comes from self doubt – but not many people walk free from having that! Personally, I started to have similar thoughts – I decided that as long as people where not writing OFFENDING comments I should be happy:) But thinking is somehow not the same thing as what you feel anyhow… Luckily, I also got a lot of private (nice)feedback, on FB, mail and from meeting people, so I dare to continue to write on my blog baby after all…

  15. Naomi Chase says:

    I just wanted to say that this blog entry really helped me :) I’ve been holding back on my own blogging because I want it to be “perfect” and when I do finally post entries and get no comments (except tons of spam) then I grow even more afraid.

    You’ve helped me begin to overcome this… It’s always nice to know you’re not alone anyway :)

  16. Lakshmi says:

    This is so spot on. I remember feeling so discouraged when no one posted any comments on my blog and, later on, even saw that I did not have that many profile views either after having been on the blogosphere for a few years. However, there was a period in between when my mind was not at all on blogging as I was busy with other things so no complaints.

    I did not even pass on the blog url to my friends or all my family members initially partly because I did not want them to read all my views and partly because I wanted to make it on my own.

    Now that I post more often, I see more hits in the stats. And that has been a guilty pleasure lately – looking at the stats and feeling happy that people from different countries have visited my blog:).

    And it is true that I don’t comment on each and every post or article online so I can’t expect that from someone else, too. However, I do comment on several blogs, especially if I feel that the blogger’s work needs to be commended.

    This post is one of them.
    Cheers!

  17. eden says:

    This need for instant feedback is purely a phenomena of the digital publishing realm. Only a few years ago, you (generically) would be struggling to find any audience at all, and grateful for having made it past the initial barriers to acquire some potential to be read/seen.

    Go physical and there is even less notion of a response to gather. We can only think that there is some positive reinforcing feedback to our creations in the form of sales. (hey, published or shown in a physical gallery? that’s half the battle. publishing on the web barely registers).

    Into the void. Judging self worth on comments? Most of us are trained that if we really must post a written reply to something, then we must register, and/or verify, and to be honest, that’s a pain and a waste of time (but because i’m here and battle with the problem with my own work), i’ll go ahead and post. And even then, most feel we may be judged on our comments. And grammar. frickin grammar and the flow of thinking in prose. Composing a paragraph takes time (as you better know), and often our minds will change perspective in the process multiple times, from anti-hypothesis to burdened indifference.

    pat on the back… nice work.

    well, here’s to that. i don’t expect a response. it’s okay. stay in the flow. don’t look back but to remember where you’ve been.

    glank

    -e

    • Andy says:

      Hi Eden,

      Yeah it definitely is something that has become a key part of the process since digital publishing has essentially provided access for all people to all people. You make some really good points.

      I think that even physical creations are quite intrinsically linked with digital platforms now – we generally sell our tangible things online and so build a space which can recieve feedback, can be shared and can be ‘liked’ etc – they are often just an extension/partner of the digital. The bottom line is sales but this is not necessarily a comment on the work itself but rather the by-product of a load of other factors.

      It reminds me of what many writers used to go through. A different kind of silence, from the industry. Writers would send manuscripts to publishers, articles to magazines, short stories to journals etc, and would invariably hear nothing. They wouldn’t even know that anyone was listening as you say. And so today the ease and accessibility of digital publishing brings a release from this, but also an opening of flood gates, a barrage of information just flying at us every day and very little time to process it, let alone compose a paragraph in response to it!

      Judging our self-worth on comments. It’s one of those things we know is stupid and wrong, but I suppose it’s very hard not to be a little bit affected by the undefined silence – you can’t help but ask why, and our imaginations can be cruel mistresses at times like these. And much like the writers of old we can use the space to hone our craft, find our voice and as you say, stay in the flow, don’t look back, but remember where we’ve been (I like that).

      Thanks :)

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