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Semiotic silence in intimate relationships: Much silence makes a powerful noise – African Proverb

  • Ashesi University


The theoretical and empirical research on the use of communicative silence in human interaction reveals sustained scholarly interest in the topic. Yet, very little research attention has focused on how married couples use this phenomenon in their relationships. Thus, we have a superficial understanding of, for example, the functional uses of silence as conflict management tactic in such relationships. This paper attempts to broaden further our understanding of how participants, in a previous study, used silence to negotiate some of the conflicts that arose in their relationships. From this perspective, the paper elaborates on prior identified themes as well as discusses an additional theme that was found in the interview data. The overall aim of the paper then, is to engender interest into this domain of silence usage.
Semiotic silence: Its use as a conflict-
management strategy in intimate
Communication scholars’ early interest in the function of silence in human
interactions produces di¤erent theorizations about the phenomenon. Con-
temporary interest is evidenced in a plethora of research exploring di¤erent
domains of how silence is utilized in human interaction. Despite the sus-
tained interest in the function of silence in human communication, there is
a paucity of research examining how intimate partners use silence as a
conflict-management strategy. Consequently, there is an impoverished un-
derstanding on how such couples manage their marital conflicts using si-
lence. This study thus investigates how married couples use silence as a
conflict management strategy in their relationships. Using a qualitative
paradigm — specifically the semiotic phenomenological perspective — and
analyzing the research data through Lanigan’s three-step methodology, I
discover participants’ experiences with silence in conflict situations with
their spouses. The analysis reveals four themes that describe the experiences
of married couples using silence as conflict-management tactic. Discussion
of the themes reveals important findings as to how participants use silence
in three ways to manage the inevitable conflicts that arise within their
Keywords: communication; conflict management; intimate relationships;
silence; semiotic phenomenology.
1. Introduction: Overview
Intimate couples often use silence as a conflict management strategy in
their relationship. In this context, the first section of my analysis reviews
the early and contemporary research literature on silence for interpersonal
communication as well as how silence is used as a conflict management
Semiotica 167–1/4 (2007), 283–308 0037–1998/07/0167–0283
DOI 10.1515/SEM.2007.080 6Walter de Gruyter
tactic. The second section of the analysis lays out the methodology used
to investigate and understand intimate couples’ use of silence to manage
their intimate conflict. The third part discusses the research results in
terms of the themes constituted by the interview data, while the final sec-
tions in the article discuss the research findings in the broader context of
communication theory. The paper ends with one major conclusion about
silence drawn from reflecting on the themes.
2. Early silence research
What becomes evident in the early literature on silence (with the excep-
tion of one study) is how the authors only o¤er theoretical speculations
on the role of silence in human interactions, and thus fail to suggest em-
pirical ways to study silence such as the assessment of dyadic interactions.
Over three decades ago, Tannen and Saville-Troike (1985: xi, italics
mine) noted that the study of communication focuses primarily on ‘talk’
to the relative exclusion of ‘silence.’ Saville-Troike (1985) for her part ob-
serves that even in linguistics, where silence is recognized as an empirical
datum, the theoretical tradition has been to define silence as the absence
of speech sounds.
Today, communicology scholars now recognize silence as a semiotic
unit of nonverbal communication (DeFrancisco 1991; Jaworski and Ste-
phens 1998). In addition, communication scholars also realize that the
meanings associated with silence are not universal in nature, but cultur-
ally and contextually defined ( Liu 2002; Sifianou 1997). In recognition of
the context specificity of the meanings of silence, Bonvillain (1993: 47),
for example, defines silence as the kind of communication that ‘transmits
many kinds of meaning depending on cultural interpretation.’
Communication scholars’ interest in silence for its communicative roles
in human interaction was not ignited until the early part of the 1970s.
Jensen (1973) examines the potential communicative functions of silence
in human interactions when it is used with other nonverbal symbols. In
this direction, he outlines and explicates five functions of silence: linking,
a¤ective, revelational, judgmental, and activating. Despite the revealing
insights he o¤ers into the meanings of silence in human interactions, Jen-
sen’s (1973) theoretical stance on silence in human interactions is flawed.
This limitation is evident in the implicit assumption inherent in the theory
that suggests that the meaning of silence is uniform across all communi-
cative domains in di¤erent cultural contexts.
Also contributing to the theoretical knowledge of how silence functions
in human communication is Brunneau (1973), who defines three major
284 J. Oduro-Frimpong
forms of silence: psycholinguistic silence, interactive silence, and socio-
cultural silence. Brunneau discusses the use of silence interactions where
the phenomenon can be used as (1) a sign of respect or disrespect for the
holders of authority (2) a strategy for opposing ‘violent expression and
anger’ (1973: 38), (3) a tactic by authorities to create independence in sub-
ordinates by letting them think for themselves, and (4) as a device to rhe-
torically control behavior. One positive theoretical ramification of Brun-
neau’s position is that it indirectly encourages not only ethnographic
investigations but also other modes of research into the valuation of si-
lence in di¤erent socio-cultural contexts.
Johannesen (1974), perhaps seeing little value in the hypothetical func-
tions of silence evidenced in Jensen (1973) and Brunneau’s (1973) articles,
calls for empirical research into ‘the functioning of silence in normal, ev-
eryday, human communication process.’ Johannesen based his appeal on
reviewing the existing body of literature on silence, which had examined
silence in terms of four cognitive and social perspectives. In discussing
these four perspectives on silence, Johannesen demonstrates that silence
plays a role in several communication contexts: human thought processes,
purposive everyday interpersonal communication, civic and political life,
and in counseling and psycho-therapeutic contexts. In spite of failing to
suggest heuristic ways to investigate silence in human interaction, Johan-
nessen’s work reveals the potential areas where one can direct attention in
terms of investigating silence.
Johannesen’s (1974: 25) ‘plea for communication research’ into silence
in human interactions seems to have been answered by Jaksa and Stetch
(1978). These authors investigate silence in human interactions with Trap-
pist monks in seven abbeys. The stimulus for the research was a modifica-
tion of the Trappist code of enforced solitude. Prior to this change, the
monks had observed enforced solitude and silence, and any desire to com-
municate had to be authorized by superiors in the Trappist monasteries.
Jaksa and Stech’s (1978) work reveals three things. First, the monks’
communicative use of silence becomes e¤ective when the internalized pos-
itive self-evaluation is validated through interactions with other monks.
Second, silence hampers true contemplation when people are lonely and
separated as well as in situations that cause tension. Last, the retreat
into silence produces the desired e¤ect within the context of prior verbal
communication in relationships. The utility of Jaksa and Stech’s research
findings is that it encourages research into the various domains of com-
munication contexts where one can discern and then assess the use of
While Jaksa and Stech’s (1978) study seems to be a response to Jo-
hannesen’s (1974) plea, Brummett’s (1980: 289) study of silence in a political
Semiotic silence 285
setting through his ‘theory of strategic silence in politics seems to rectify
the theoretical limitation in Johannesen’s article. Here, Brummett defines
strategic silence as the refusal of a public figure to communicate verbally
when that refusal (a) violates expectations, (b) draws public attributions
and fairly predictable meanings, and (c) seems intentional and directed
at an audience. Wanting to better explicate his theory, Brummett exam-
plifies his theoretical discussion with a brief criticism of a strategic use of
silence by former President Jimmy Carter on July 5, 1979. Brummett’s
analysis of Carter’s silence reveals that silence is not a wise strategy for
the President because the silence encouraged a negative definition of the
President’s persona as indecisive.
Brummett (1980) should be commended not only for the theory he pro-
poses, but also his ability to apply the theoretical discussion to a specific
empirical case. This exemplification is not only helpful in comprehending
the theory, but also provides one with the possibility of expanding the
theory’s applicability into other communication contexts.
From the ongoing discussion, one can conclude that, with the excep-
tion of Jaksa and Stech (1978), the authors’ discussions limit the utility
of their theoretical perspectives in that they fail to o¤er specific empirical
ways in which to analyze silence as in dyadic interactions. Nonetheless,
the hypotheses they o¤er make one realize the context in which silence in
human communication needs further research.
3. Contemporary silence research
Communication scholars’ interests in silence as part of human communi-
cation have moved beyond theoretical discussions. Within this observa-
tion, this section of my analysis reviews contemporary research on silence
situated in specific communication contexts. The focal aim of this analysis,
then, is to examine the extent to which such previous investigations into
silence in context-specific studies deal with marital conflict.
Scholars like Jaworski and Sachdev (1998) examine beliefs and atti-
tudes about silence in the classroom between teachers and students re-
garding teaching/learning situations. Jaworski and Stephens (1998) have
also completed research on how people with hearing impairments utilize
silence in their day-to-day interactions as a means of managing their in-
terpersonal relationships. Some other scholars like Nwoye (1985), Gil-
more (1985), and Saunders (1985), writing within an ethnographic orien-
tation, have studied silence in di¤erent socio-cultural contexts.
Nwoye’s (1985: 185) research, for example, investigates the use of si-
lence in three communicative contexts among the ‘typically very extro-
286 J. Oduro-Frimpong
verted’ Igbo of Nigeria where he identifies: institutionally determined
silence associated with rituals connected to death and birth; group-level
silence where silence is used to show respect; and ‘individually determined
silence’ used to communicate unfriendliness.
Gilmore (1985) researched silence as an important component of class-
room interaction. Here, Gilmore studies the ritualistic displays of silence
combined with other types of students’ and teachers’ nonverbal behav-
iors. His analyses led him to conclude that despite the inequality in status
between students and teachers, the uses and meaning of their silences
were to negotiate power.
Very recent studies in silence also examine silence in various institu-
tional contexts. For example, Cotterill (2005) examines the right to silence
in the English legal system. Jule (2005) explores the use of silence in En-
glish as a Second Language (ESL) environment while Spencer-Oatey and
Xing (2005) investigates silence in two Chinese-British meetings. Further-
more, while O Malley’s (2005) silence research looks at the phenomenon
in an antenatal hospital environment, Jaworski, Fitzgerald, and Constan-
tinou (2005) examine silence in the context of television broadcast of
tragic news.
Thus in the literature review on silence in human interactional contexts,
studies have either focused on silence in the classroom, specific cultures,
or institutional domains. Thus, it is clear that the study of silence in
human communication is not ‘a ‘‘neglected’’ or ‘‘undervalued’ area’’ ’ of
research (Jaworski 2005: 1). In spite of this observation, what is clear
from this comprehensive review is that the ‘silence’ studies reported here
did not explore intimate couples’ use of the communological phenomenon
as a conflict management strategy in their relationships.
4. Silence as a conflict management tactic
The final group of research studies examines the extent to which silence is
a used as conflict management tactic in intimate relationships. The aim is
to make a stronger case for the need to research silence as a strategy that
intimate couples utilize in their relationships. The review begins with the
work of Saunders (1985) and Tannen (1990), the only two studies related
to my focus on conflict management.
Saunders (1985) investigates how silence is used as a conflict manage-
ment tactic in the Italian village of Valbella. In exploring how conflict is
managed through silence, Saunders gives an actual case that he witnessed
in the Valbellan village between one Mr. Taccino and his daughter. From
his analyses, Saunders concludes that Taccino’s daughter’s silence was
Semiotic silence 287
strategic in that it was utilized to avoid an angry verbalization against her
father’s authority. Mr. Taccino, in explaining to Saunders why he chose
to use silence in that conflict situation noted that, ‘it was better to say
nothing at all, because one was likely to get angry and say things that
would lead to irreparable damage in family relations’ (1985: 180). Saun-
ders concludes that ‘in the Italian case, the more serious the potential for
conflict, the more likely it is that people will choose the silent mode’
(1985: 165) as a conflict management tactic.
Tannen (1990) also recognizes silence as a conflict management tactic
but, unlike Saunders (1985) who investigated this phenomenon in a real
interaction, Tannen’s case studies are of relationships in the Harold
Pinter’s fictional story ‘Great Wits,’ as well as Alice Mattison’s play titled
Betrayal. Tannen’s choice of not investigating this tactic in real human
interaction can perhaps be attributed to her view that literary dialogue
equally constitutes ‘‘a type of representation of human interaction that
has at least symbolic significance’’ (1990: 61). This perspective is valid
since literature is a ready-made phenomenological reduction of described
behavior. In examining the various points in ‘Great Wits’ where silence is
used in conflict situations, Tannen (1990: 276) concludes that in a poten-
tial conflict situation silence helps to contain the situation, but when si-
lence gives way to a verbal expression, it escalates the situation, leading
to ‘everlastingly destructive consequences.’
Tannen (1990) also explores the functions of the use of silence, as well
as pauses, in Betrayal. Tannen (1990: 265), in arguing that silence is uti-
lized as a conflict management strategy by the characters in Betrayal, as-
serts that the characters utilize silence so that ‘the revelation of the most
damaging and shocking betrayal’ through silence prevented the marriage
of two important characters in the play. Thus, one can concur with Tan-
nen (1990) that silence can be used as a substitute for direct expression of
negative emotion to manage conflict. From the analysis of both literary
works, Tannen is able to convincingly demonstrate that ‘. . . disruption
of [intimate] relationships is avoided so long as silence rather than direct
expression is the response to potential conflict’ (1990: 276).
From the ongoing discussion, one observes that both Saunders (1985)
and Tannen (1990) investigated the use of silence as a conflict manage-
ment tactic. However, Saunders does not consider silence in a romantic
relationship. Thus, the focus on how such a tactic is used in intimate ro-
mantic relationships is limited to Tannen’s discussion of a literary dis-
course. This dearth of research about the role of silence in intimate rela-
tionships in particular needs to be addressed. In response, my analysis
focuses on the research question: How do intimate couples use silence to
manage their conflict?
288 J. Oduro-Frimpong
5. Methodology
To investigate and understand the meaning of intimate couples’ use of si-
lence to manage their conflict, I adopted a qualitative approach empha-
sizing the phenomenological perspective. The choice for the phenomeno-
logical method is not based merely on the fact that it is now an accepted
as a qualitative human science research method, capable of being used
to investigate issues of consciousness in everyday human experiences (Be-
tanzos 1988; Moustakas 1994; Polkinhorne 1983). Rather, I chose the
approach because it is able to e¤ectively explore everyday experiences
from a participant’s perspective, with the goal of identifying and describ-
ing such experiences as will ultimately yield a deeper understanding of the
nature or meaning of that phenomenon (Schwandt 2000; Van Maanen
1990). Such an understanding is not achieved through measurement
and analysis of causal relationships between variables or processes but
through detailed or in-depth interviewing ( Denzin and Lincoln 2000). An-
other important reason for me to opt for the phenomenological method
lies in the fact that it ‘attempts to gain insightful descriptions of the way
we experience the world pre-reflectively without taxonomizing, classify-
ing, or abstracting it’ (Van Maanen 1990: 9). Furthermore, I chose the
phenomenological perspective due to my social constructionist orienta-
tion to human communication, which posits that humans are active
agents in constructing their social experience. The specific phenomenolog-
ical viewpoint I used for my data analyses is Lanigan’s (1988) three-step
method of phenomenological analysis summarized in the table below:
Table 1. Semiotic phenomenology in the existential tradition as a model theoretic procedure
for analysis in the human sciences. Lanigan’s (1988) three-step method of phenomenological
Theory Methodology
1. Description (entails):
a. Description;
b. Reduction;
c. Interpretation.
2. Reduction (entails):
a. Description;
b. Reduction;
c. Interpretation.
3. Interpretation (entails):
a. Description;
b. Reduction;
c. Interpretation.
1. Description ( Thematizing the)
2. Interpretation (of the)
3. Reduction (of the)
4. Description (of the Sign).
5. Reduction (Abstracting the)
6. Interpretation (of the)
7. Reduction (of the)
8. Description (of the Signifier).
9. Interpretation ( Explicating the)
10. Interpretation (of the)
11. Reduction (of the)
12. Description (of the Signified).
Semiotic silence 289
5.1. Logic: Validity and reliability
In checking the validity of my findings in this research I examined re-
spondents’ discussions and pulled out revelatory phrases that recalled
their experiences regarding either their own or their respective partners’
use of silence to manage their intimate conflict. Such phrases of respon-
dents reflected what either they or their respective partners intended under
the circumstances they used or experienced silence in the conflict situation.
My ability to identify such phrases was aided by the Aristotelian logic of
possibility that ‘if one can think of something, it is possible to find it.’
The question of reliability in this research is premised on the ‘consis-
tency of observations’ (Lindlof and Taylor 2002: 238) of respondents’ use
of silence as tactic either by themselves or their intimate partners in man-
aging their conflict. As will become evident in the ‘results’ section, the test
of the possibility (of finding at least one situation across the interviews of
respondents’ use of silence as conflict management tactic to make the
findings in this research credible) was realized.
5.2. Description
5.2.1. Participants. Participants consisted of screened volunteers who
responded to flyers that described the purpose of this study and were
posted on bulletin boards in a Michigan university. These volunteers (4
males and 4 females), represented information-rich cases that were rele-
vant to the phenomenon understudy (Patton 2002). Each of the volun-
teers is married and living with his or her spouse. Two of the participants
were married to each other, but were interviewed separately. The six
other participants were married to partners who did not volunteer for
this research. The choice of married people who live with their spouses
was justified on the grounds that such people’s relationship is marked by
factors as communicative interdependence, psychological intimacy, and
relational commitment (Canary et al. 1995), and these factors increase
the potential for conflict.
All participants signed consent forms informing them about the nature
of the research, their ability to decline to participate at any time, and a
guarantee of information confidentiality.
The interviews were transcribed verbatim and proofread for accu-
racy. I assumed the ‘phenomenological attitude’ ( Holroyd 2001: 4) be-
fore reading the transcripts and the subsequent analysis. This attitude
involves ‘bracketing,’ which refers to the suspension of one’s taken-for-
granted approach to everyday living informed by such factors as one’s
290 J. Oduro-Frimpong
background, education, and even one’s previous knowledge of the phe-
nomenon (Holroyd 2001). Within this attitude, I read the transcripts and
pulled out the revelatory phrases of respondents with regard to the phe-
nomenon being studied. I again listened to the recorded interviews for
vocal cues of meaning intention.
5.2.2. Procedures. Data collection consisted of in-depth interviews with
the participants. The interviews were conducted using semi-structured,
open-ended questions to allow e¤ective exploration and gathering of ex-
periential narrative information. An audiotape recorder was used to rec-
ord the interviews to help ensure accurate data gathering and analysis.
At the beginning of each interview, I asked participants to choose their
own pseudonyms to ensure anonymity. The interview began with warm-
up questions that asked participants under what circumstances they met
their partners and how long they had been married. The questions in the
main section of the interview guide included asking participants to share
with me a recent conflict(s) they had had with their respective spouses and
how such conflict was resolved. Some of the questions asked participants
to recall a time when they used silence in a conflict situation with their
spouse, why they used silence as opposed to talk in the conflict situation,
and how it felt to use the silence strategy. Probing questions were fre-
quently utilized to encourage participants to elaborate on their stories. In
the last part of the interview, I asked participants to share with me any
related information that they felt was important but which I had failed
to ask.
The interviews lasted from about thirty minutes to more than an hour.
The time di¤erence was based on several factors including how directly
some participants responded to the questions or the depth and number
of details that some participants provided.
5.3. Reduction: Data analysis
In analyzing and interpreting the data, I followed Lanigan’s (1984) three-
step method of phenomenological analysis of description, reduction, and
interpretation. Since the primary concern of phenomenology is the de-
scription of experiences ‘as expressed and perceived by persons in a social
world by others’ (Lanigan 1992: 182), my data analysis began with the
expressed experiences of respondents achieved via my interviewing them,
listening several times to the interview tapes, and finally transcribing their
verbatim responses. Phenomenological reduction of my data entailed
Semiotic silence 291
careful readings of the descriptions for ‘those parts that are essential for
the existence of the conscious experience’ ( Lanigan 1988: 10). Such ‘es-
sential’ parts were identified through important statements and phrases
relating to the experience under investigation. Last, phenomenological in-
terpretation of my data involved organizing the meanings of the ‘signifi-
cant statements and phrases’ into thematic meaning clusters that reveal a
phrase or word as the signification of a meaning cluster.
Cumulatively, these rigorous analytical processes helped me first to un-
cover meaningful clusters of revelatory phrases from the interviews. Out
of these clusters emerged the four themes revealing and signifying the ex-
periences of respondents regarding the various ways through which inti-
mate couples used silence as a conflict management tactic. In conclusion,
I want to emphasize that inasmuch as the explanation of the three step
method of analyses might seem sequential, in practice, it is very ‘synergis-
tic’ (Lanigan 1988: 10) in that despite ‘each step [following] upon the
other in a dialectic progression . . . each step is part of the others in a sys-
temic completeness of reflective intentionality’ (Lanigan 1988: 173).
6. Themes: Results of the study
In all, four central themes were extracted from the interviews: (1) forms of
silence, (2) learning the uses of silence, (3) use of silence and, (4) e¤ects of
silence. The paragraphs below explicate further the identified themes.
6.1. Forms of silence
One of the main themes that emerged from the data analyses relates to
how silence manifest in various forms. Although it might seem that all si-
lence looks or sounds alike, the participants in this research reported that
it took di¤erent forms from pretending to be asleep or not bringing up a
conflict topic for discussion, to diverting attention to an activity other
than the conflict topic. With regards to Dr. Love ( pseudonym) and his
spouse, sometimes the conflict issue related to the timing for sexual inti-
macy. During the interview, he indicated that there had been times when
he had tried to talk to his wife or ‘touch her and stu¤ ’ to persuade her to
have sex with him. But if his wife was not in the same sexual mood as he,
she acted as if ‘she [was] sleeping or something like that.’ Instead of mak-
ing it verbally clear that she was not as ‘sexually charged’ as her spouse,
his wife adopted a silent attitude in the form of feigned sleep to avoid any
292 J. Oduro-Frimpong
The first form of reliability and validity of this theme is evidenced in
Diane’s (pseudonym) interview where she reported that her spouse’s use
of silence in a conflict situation took the form of not bringing up the con-
flict topic for discussion as well as initially explicitly denying that there
was a problem. As Diane explained, ‘he wouldn’t tell me [about the con-
flict problem] until finally . . . I bothered him for a long time and he finally
said ‘‘oh, I am upset with you because I really feel you’ve been short with
me all day.’’ ’
Another measure of validity and reliability relating to the theme of
forms of silence is seen in Black Bear’s ( pseudonym) experience with his
wife’s silence in a conflict situation when his wife unexpectedly diverted
attention to a book she carried, but had not been reading. Prior to the
conflict topic being brought up for discussion, Black Bear and his wife
were engaged in a conversation. However, when the conflict topic came
up, ‘out came the book’ and that was the ‘end of [the] conversation.’
Clearly di¤erent manifestations of silence were evident in the partici-
pants’ experiences of behavior. At times, conflict participants may still
be on speaking terms, but are silent on the conflict topic. In other
cases, the silence may be replaced by another activity in which silence is
6.2. Learning the use of silence
Another finding relates to the foundations of participants’ use of silence
to manage their conflicts. Participants reported that they learned how to
use silence after having been significantly influenced or impacted by either
their parents or their spouses to adopt silence as a strategy for managing
their conflicts. George (pseudonym) explained how he came to grow up
‘with that mentality’ of using silence in his relationship after learning it
from his father. According to George, his father is someone ‘who never
talks much.’ Even when his father saw someone do something wrong, he
did not say anything to that person. The purpose of his father’s silence,
according to George, was to let the wrongdoer analyze and later ac-
knowledge his/her wrongful actions and consequently apologize. In de-
scribing his own personality, George revealed that, just like his father, he
is ‘not someone who likes talking very much about [his] emotions’; thus,
his choice of silence to manage his marital conflict, which he ‘learnt from
[his] dad,’ suits him very well.
A first validity and reliability confirmation of the theme of how partic-
ipants learn to use silence is grasped in Black Bear’s phrase, ‘whether or
not we want to be factors of our parents, we are.’ This phrase was Black
Semiotic silence 293
Bear’s way of alluding to how he learned to use silence as a conflict
management strategy in his marital life. In growing up, he witnessed his
parents’ conflicts where his ‘mother would basically scream and yell and
throw things when she [got] angry.’ In such situations, his father ‘would
shut down.’ Such observations of his father’s way of dealing with his mar-
ital conflict made Black Bear assert that he learned his use of silence in
conflict from his father because ‘he taught me.’
Another measure of reliability and validity of the above-mentioned
theme is further evidenced in the comparison Diane made regarding her-
self and her father. Here, Diane indicated that, just like her father, she
used silence in conflict situations with her spouse hinting at some form
of influence from the father. However, it is her categorical statement that
she ‘learned it from him,’ that supports my conclusion that her use of si-
lence is a learned behavior and has impacted in the way she manages con-
flict with her spouse.
The validity and reliability of the theme of how silence is learned as a
conflict management tactic also becomes obvious in Araba’s (pseud-
onym) case where, unlike parents, her spouse influenced her in using si-
lence in their conflict situations. Araba describes herself as talkative as a
result of ‘being born with three other siblings.’ But she married a person
who is not only ‘shy’ but also ‘a bit withdrawn,’ perhaps due to being ‘an
only child’ where ‘silence is his bedfellow.’ With this perceived under-
standing of her husband, Araba ‘ended up using silence more because
[she] realized that it happened to be . . . the most e¤ective way of getting
him to do stu¤ which I want.’ Another reason for opting to use silence in
managing their conflict is ‘because that is the only way he knows how to
resolve conflict.’
For the participants in this research, silence was reportedly a learned
behavior, typically modeled after practices performed by male figures in
their lives (fathers or husbands) whose use of silence was e¤ective and/or
more appealing than the other conflict management strategies they saw
modeled for them.
6.3. Uses of silence
Another theme constituted by the data is the various ways that silence is
used to manage conflict. Three specific uses of silence were identified.
6.3.1. Contemplative tool. The first use of silence in managing con-
flict is the use of silence as a contemplative tool through which the
294 J. Oduro-Frimpong
participants reflected upon the conflict situation. The contemplation de-
lays a confrontation. Dr. Love, in expounding on the necessity of using
silence as a contemplative tool explains that
when you start interacting on a conflict, in many cases either one of the person[s]
[involved] is pissed. . . . In many cases when you ignore that and move it to a later
time, most parties have the chance to calm down and discuss the situation.
Silence, then, is used in a mediating way to help either one or both part-
ners, especially those whose emotions are more vested in the issue, to have
time to reflect on their own position.
The first validity and reliability confirmation of how silence is utilized
as a contemplative tool is seen in the real example of Kweku Kapreh
(pseudonym) of a conflict situation with his spouse. The conflict centered
on whether to relocate his family to Michigan, where he had secured a
job, or to commute from the family home in Canada. In this particular
situation, Kwaku Kapreh indicated that he used silence to allow himself
to reflect on his and his wife’s positions. In answering the question as to
whether his use of silence negatively or otherwise a¤ected the conflict sit-
uation, Kweku Kapreh reflected, ‘I think it helped in that it allowed me
to rethink about, you know, about my position and her position, and
also to avoid an escalation.’ In another conflict situation with his spouse
in which Kwaku Kapreh used silence, he indicates that the silence al-
lowed him ‘to avoid the continuation of the point of contention . . . at
least temporarily.’ A second measure of validity and reliability confirma-
tion is provided by Black Bear who also subscribed to the use of silence as
a contemplative tool through which to arrive at ‘a more reasoned, ratio-
nal discussion’ in a conflict situation. He asserts that ‘sometimes, saying
nothing is potentially a good thing as well. Out of anger, well, you say
things that are hurtful.’
Jane’s (pseudonym) similar use of silence in conflict situations with her
husband further confirms the validity and reliability of the finding that si-
lence can be used as a contemplative tool in intimate conflict situations.
After she married her husband, they used to have conflicts over finances.
The core issue of their conflict was how she should spend her income.
This matter got her upset ‘because I felt I was right.’ According to her,
her husband thought he was right, and this led to a situation in which ‘ei-
ther one of us would not come and talk about it.’ However, Jane deemed
such a situation as beneficial because ‘sometimes you need to really think
about ‘‘why am I mad?’’ Well, I am mad because I used to be able to do
and buy anything I wanted and somebody is going to tell me that maybe I
shouldn’t have bought that new outfit?’ Jane’s ensuing silence (and that of
Semiotic silence 295
her husband) in the conflict situation not only allowed her to discover
why she was mad about the situation, but also a¤orded her the opportu-
nity to ponder core questions related to the conflict such as ‘[a]m I mad
because he didn’t want me to buy the outfit? or am I mad because it cost
too much? Or am I just mad because in general I don’t want anybody
controlling me?’ Once she had answered these questions, Jane felt that
the silence that might lead to the time that ‘I say ‘‘can we talk?’’ Can we
sit down and talk about this? because it is going to happen again.’ In this
situation, Jane reportedly also utilized silence as a time to think through
issues embedded in the conflict situation.
The contemplative use of silence in a conflict situation sometimes leads
to the diminishing of one’s anger because the silence o¤ers one an oppor-
tunity to rationally reevaluate one’s position on a conflict topic. An ex-
ample of this use of silence is evidenced in some conflict situations in
Jane’s life. Jane told me that one of the conflicts she has had with her hus-
band sometimes focused on the strict punishment that he meted out to
their son. In Jane’s assessment, her husband’s punishment decisions for
their son were made in anger. She noticed that after her husband has
time for ‘silence and not talking . . . he becomes more lenient and more
The interviews revealed that the participants in their varied conflict
circumstances used silence to reflect upon their positions in the conflict
situations. They used silence to reflect on their own position as well the
other’s position in the conflict situation. The use of silence led them to
a rational discussion and decision, after they had discovered the source
of their feelings. In all such situations, their use of silence to contem-
plate the conflict situation reportedly led to a better management of the
6.3.2. Complementary role. The complementary role silence played in
the resolution of conflict between couples is the second use of silence evi-
dent in the analysis of the interviews. Specifically, silence complemented
talk in the resolution of marital conflict. Thus, silence acted as a precursor
to talk in the conflict management process. In this vein, silence was not
the ultimate means through which participants resolved conflict issues
with their significant others, but it had a preparatory role. For example,
Diane’s description of her experiences with her husband pointed to the
fact that there had been numerous occasions on which his comments
hurt her feelings. These experiences subsequently made her husband care-
ful in the things he said to her. As a result of this change in behavior, Di-
ane asserted, she interprets her husband’s silence di¤erently. For Diane,
296 J. Oduro-Frimpong
her husband’s silence in conflict situations indicated the amount of
thought that he had given to the conflict issue. Thus, silence functions as
preparatory ground for choosing appropriate words for interaction.
Silence also plays a complementary role in managing marital conflict
because it allows conflict participants to acknowledge certain basic ingre-
dients of intimate relationships. In one conflict situation with her spouse
after both had used silence, Jane said to her husband ‘I don’t see your
way and you don’t see mine, and we are gonna see things di¤erently. If
you and I saw a car wreck, you might see it di¤erently than I saw it.’
The essence of this utterance, enhanced by the analogy of the di¤erent
perceptions of the car wreck, is the acknowledgement of perceptual di¤er-
ences that exist among all humans. This realization, conceived in silence,
moved the conflict issue to the resolution table where talk was utilized to
resolve the conflict issue. A period of silence allows partners time to clar-
ify the legitimacy of their feeling as it pertains to the conflict. In such sit-
uations, the silence eventually helps individuals not only to be able to
compose what they want to say but also, as Jane puts it, to ‘say [exactly]
how you are feeling.’
A confirmation of the validity and reliability of the finding relating to
role of silence in better managing conflict was also evidenced in Diane’s
response to the question as to how she felt in her experience. In answering
this question, she said that the use of silence manages conflict better. She
declares that
Most of the time, it’s better because . . . if I had just said what I wanted to say
while I was in there, it would have been a lot worse of a situation and he would
have been very upset because I would have been on him.
The confirmation of the complementary role of silence is succinctly
captured by Black Bear. He admits to using silence in his marital conflict,
and its purpose was to ‘shut down’ and separate himself ‘from the conflict
at that point.’ Despite this, he expressly acknowledged that if one is in a
conflict, be it marital or otherwise, ‘the only way you’re gonna get past it
isn’t by being silent.’
It is clear that the participants felt that silence is insu‰cient by itself to
resolve marital conflict. This point is lucidly captured in Jane’s observa-
tion that since humans ‘can’t read minds’ and that sometimes ‘we don’t
even know what we are thinking, it is important not to be silent.’ In view
of this observation, she advised that in intimate conflict situations, ‘it’s
good to open up’ since doing so allows people to ‘learn who you are and
what you are about, what you are made up [of ] and what your past is all
Semiotic silence 297
The insu‰cient nature of silence in marital conflict resolution, hence its
complementary role to talk, is evidenced in the realization that it delays
the conflict management process. Diane admits that she is ‘sort of a potty
mouth sometimes’ and describes her husband’s personality, as ‘kind of
sensitive about some things.’ Diane indicates that there had been a couple
of times during a conflict with her spouse where she had to leave the con-
flict situation to collect her thoughts so as not to say hurtful things to her
husband. In describing one of the typical ways in which she used silence
by exiting the conflict situation, she said
Usually, it’s just like going to another room or, you know, something like that. I
will get upset about something and . . . I don’t wanna automatically talk about it
because I have a tendency when I, I feel I have a tendency if I go right into being
upset about something and tell him about it, I say [it] the wrong way. That hurts
his feelings because he is kind of sensitive about some things, and so I try to kind
of back o¤ and let it just brew in me, and calm down, and interconnect, and say
‘look this is what is upsetting me, this is what I need from you.’ Usually I don’t
leave but, you know, but I may kind of take time because you know it’s better to
say [the] right thing.
6.3.3. Strategic uses. The strategic use of silence, or the active employ-
ment of silence to achieve a desired end in a conflict situation, is the last
use of silence described by the research participants. The strategic use of
silence in George’s case manifests itself when, in conflict situations with
his spouse, he consciously did not ‘say anything’ even though he knew
that his wife was conscious that he was aware of the conflict. He chose
this mode of conflict management so that his wife could do some self-
chastisement. George likened his mood in this situation to ‘play[ing]
God, you know, kind of like an avenging angel.’ George also reported
times that he used silence to pressure his spouse to give in to his financial
demands, despite the fact that he knew he was ‘in the wrong.’ George
confessed that he sometimes experienced a backlash e¤ect when his wife
cried as a result of experiencing the silent treatment from him. In this
vein, George likened his behavior to ‘torturing someone you love.’ Thus,
although he felt good in using silence strategically to get his spouse to
agree to his viewpoints in conflict situations, his feelings were at the
same time hurt because he realized that his wife experiences a negative re-
action to his use of silence. Therefore, inasmuch as he strategically em-
ploys silence in his conflict situations, he is cognizant of negative backlash
that the strategy evokes.
Validity and reliability confirmation of the theme relating to the theme
of the uses of silence as manifested in the routine strategic employment of
298 J. Oduro-Frimpong
silence in conflict situations is also evidenced in how Araba managed her
conflict with her husband, George. Araba acknowledges that originally si-
lence had not been one of the tools in her arsenal that she drew upon dur-
ing conflict because she is a born talker. In contrast, her husband, who is
naturally a silent person, is ‘good at using psychological blackmail’
through silence to achieve his goals in a conflict with Araba. However,
upon realizing that her spouse actively employs silence ‘to gnaw at you
psychologically to get you to whatever point he wants you to be, what-
ever events he wants you to partake in, or whatever action that he wants
you to do,’ she also started to use silence deliberately for the same e¤ect.
Thereafter, anytime that Araba wanted her spouse to do something with
her like ‘to go shopping with me, which he totally hates’ and he declined
by saying ‘no, I am busy, I want to do something,’ what Araba subse-
quently did was to be
absolutely silent, make my dinner, do whatever it is, put on my clothes with abso-
lute silence. If he wants something to eat, you put whatever you have to feed him
[on] a plate and just leave it, saying absolutely nothing. When the normal pattern
will be ‘oh, here is your meal’ you are just mute. And you can feel his conscience
gnawing at him. And 95 percent of the time, he just kind of gets up and says, ‘Ok,
ok, let me take you.’
In this instance, Araba revealed her strategic use of silence in a conflict
situation to get her desires met. As she admitted, ‘It is just the way the
game is played.’ George and Araba appear to use silence in their marital
relationships to pressure the other to give in to their own wants. In both
cases, there is a sort of psychological manipulation of the partner as each
makes a move in the game of conflict.
Unlike Araba, who used silence strategically because she evidenced its
e¤ectiveness when her husband successfully used it on her, Dr. Love’s use
of silence in conflict situation with her wife stems from his being ‘a strate-
gic person’ by nature. He revealed that he does ‘things on purpose for a
reason’ because he ‘knows for a fact that . . . when you make a cause,
there is an e¤ect.’ Dr. Love describes a conflict situation where his wife
expected him to make suggestions, in the presence of her cousin, about
one of her brother-in-law’s upcoming wedding anniversary. Instead, Dr.
Love was completely silent on the issue. He ‘was really just trying not to
make the situation worse than what it was. In my eyes, the situation is
done and over with.’ Although one goal was not to exacerbate the al-
ready existing conflict, another was to provoke discussion of the state of
his relationship with her relative because ‘usually, people get the clue real
quick: if . . . you keep your mouth shut then . . . there is something wrong.’
Semiotic silence 299
Dr. Love utilizes silence in conflict situations strategically, to cause an in-
formal discussion about the roots of conflict with another person without
being direct about it.
A strategic choice of silence is not always e¤ective in accomplishing a
goal. Such was the case for Lucy (pseudonym). Lucy acknowledges that
despite the fact that using silence in conflict situations made her ‘angrier,’
there were times that she had no option other than to use it strategically.
A case in point was at a party when her husband, contrary to his normal
mode of behavior, ignored her and talked to a mutual female friend for
the entire night. In that instance, Lucy admits that, initially, she did not
know how to handle the situation. But upon having a grasp of the situa-
tion, she became silent with the hope that her spouse would respond to
her silence. Although she indicated that her spouse did not react to her
silence, her intent was strategic when she employed silence as a means of
attracting the attention of her spouse.
6.4. E¤ects of silence
The e¤ects of the use of silence either on participants themselves or on
their respective spouses is another theme that is constituted by the data.
For instance, George indicated that he ‘felt very uncomfortable’ when
his wife used silence in one conflict situation. Elaborating on his feelings,
he comments that he
. . . wanted to know what was going on in her mind. I mean, I mean if you love
someone, it doesn’t feel good to know the person is hurting or not happy about
something. The person doesn’t have to say anything but you kind of just feel
very uncomfortable; you want to do something about it.
A validity and reliability confirmation of the theme of e¤ects of silence is
also seen in Diane’s feelings during the times that she used silence in a
conflict situation with her spouse. She describes her feelings in one situa-
tion as ‘kind of stressful’ because ‘it’s like you have so much you wanna
say.’ Nonetheless she chooses silence to avoid saying what was on her
mind in an improper way, which might hurt her husband.
A further validity and reliability confirmation of the theme ‘e¤ects of
silence’ is Kweku Kapreh’s explanation that in those times that he used
silence ‘it felt very oppressive.’ Asked to elaborate on what he meant by
this ‘oppressive’ feeling, he says:
Oppressive in the sense of, you know, I felt like . . . saying something, . . . but I also
know that if I said it, it was going to worsen matters, and as I kept quiet, it more
300 J. Oduro-Frimpong
or less oppressed me, you know, so it is very uncomfortable to say the least. Be-
cause if you want to say something you can’t say it, you bottled your feelings up
and of course it is not a helpful thing at all to do.
Kwaku Kapreh’s use of silence stems from two factors. The first was his
hope that the silence would somehow help to end the conflict situation al-
together. The second was the fact that for him the use of silence in a con-
flict situation acted like a ‘momentary palliative’ which helped ease ‘the
pain but it doesn’t heal the wound, as it were.’ The statements of Diane
and Kweku Kapreh reveal a negative range of emotions associated with
silence, which hindered participants’ ability to resolve the conflict at the
time that the conflict was taking place.
Dr. Love’s articulation of how he ‘felt pressured to say something’
when explaining himself further at the time that he used silence in a con-
flict situation is another confirmation of the validity and reliability of the
theme of e¤ects of silence. Inasmuch as he was experiencing this negative
emotion, he felt ‘good’ because he has known in his life that
you don’t talk bad about another person that you wouldn’t want them to talk bad
about you. So if you have something negative to say about another person, you
should actually keep your mouth shut because something negative is gonna hap-
pen back to you.
It seems that Dr. Love’s positive emotional feelings stemmed from fulfill-
ing his goal to live up to a code of conduct in that conflict moment. How-
ever, in describing his feelings when his wife gave him the silent treatment
rather than react to his sexual advances towards her, he indicated that his
feelings were hurt.
Another e¤ect silence creates in a conflict situation is the separation it
causes between spouses. Black Bear explicitly notes that his ‘primary rea-
son [for using silence in a conflict situation is to] create distance.’ For
him, such a distance is manifested in ‘shut[ting] down in terms of de-
meanor [and] in terms of conversation.’ Black Bear further said that in
such cases where he used silence, the distance he wants to create is to be
interpreted as ‘everything that deals with my world but you.’ The extent
of the distance created is reflected in his description of the type of silence
that is exhibited in conflict situations between him and his spouse. In this
vein, Black Bear’s revelatory phrase is ‘dead depth silence.’
7. Discussion: Interpretation
The research question guiding this study asked, ‘How do intimate cou-
ples use silence to manage their conflict?’ Answering this question, the
Semiotic silence 301
participants responded to a call to discuss their experiences with silence in
conflict situations with their spouses. In this section then, I discuss the re-
sults of my findings in the broader context of the literature review on si-
lence in particular and communication theory in general. In this regard,
the discussion revolves around the extent to which my current findings
are consistent with and give credence to prior research and how the find-
ings expand our descriptive understanding of the use of silence in human
communication and on conflict management in intimate relationships.
It is evident across all eight interviews that some form of conflict oc-
curred in all participants’ marital lives. This finding is consistent with the
view that conflict is a natural or even inevitable aspect in all phases of so-
cial and personal intimate relationship development (Canary et al. 1995;
Ting-Toomey 1994). The ‘naturalness’ of such conflicts in intimate or
close relationships can be attributed to ‘the various degrees of interdepen-
dence and relational commitment [which is marked by] physical as well as
psychological intimacy’ (Canary et al. 1995: 99) that couples share.
A major finding of my research is how first silence functions as comple-
mentary tool in managing conflict. The participants evaluated conflict
contexts and made conscious decisions about the usefulness and appropri-
ateness of silence as a conflict management tool. By deciding to use
silence instead of talk in such conflict situations, participants were ac-
knowledging in concrete communicative behavior the fact that ‘everyday
talk is replete with ritual dangers and uncertainties’ (McDowell 1985:
115), and has the power to make or break social relations ( Yankah
1995). The maintenance of social relations is tied to the concept of ‘face,’
which Go¤mann (1967: 4) defines as the ‘the positive social value a per-
son e¤ectively claims for himself [or herself ] by the line others assumed
he has taken during a particular contact.’ Thus, participants’ use of si-
lence in the conflict situations discussed under this theme can be deemed
as a corrective strategy resulting from their realization of the high stakes
involved in face-to-face verbal communication. The use of silence in this
manner attests to the fact that there is the potential of face-threat in social
interactions and that discourse participants do not want to embarrass or
humiliate themselves or lose face in front of the other participants (Brown
and Levinson 1987). In this case, participants adopted such a strategy
with their respective intimate partners in order to mitigate such threats
(Christie 2005). As Brown and Levinson explain:
face is something that is emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained, or
enhanced, and must be constantly attended to in interaction. In general, people
cooperate . . . in maintaining face in interaction, such cooperation being based on
the mutual vulnerability of face. (Brown and Levinson 1987: 61)
302 J. Oduro-Frimpong
In using silence to manage their conflict, participants in this study were in
essence doing what Go¤man (1967: 12) terms ‘face work,’ which, in the
words of Conquergood, constitutes ‘the delicately negotiated and fragile
. . . part of the intricate and nuanced dramaturgy of everyday life’ (1991:
The complementary manner in which participants utilize silence in
managing their conflict not only shows their engagement in face-work,
but also their recognition that participation in ‘communication presents
a demanding cognitive environment that has the potential to increase di-
vergent perspectives, particularly when [those] interactions are conten-
tious and stressful’ (Sillars et al. 2000: 482). In conflicts with their inti-
mate partners, participants in this study realized that talk is useful in
promoting reconciliation and problem solving, as well as ‘making as-
sumptions and perceptions explicit’ (Sillars et al. 2000: 482). However,
they opt to use silence as a conflict-management style based on the fact
that ‘discussion [at that moment would have led] to further entrenchment
and escalation of [the] marital conflict’ (Sillars et al. 2000: 495).
The second function of silence in this study relates to how partici-
pants use silence as a contemplative tool that a¤ords them the opportu-
nity to be selective in their linguistic and nonverbal choices chosen to
manage the conflict situation better. For example, Kweku Kapreh, notes
I am a non-conflictual person, you know. So when it comes to, you know, when
tempers begins to rise, I would always want to be quiet. So I would always want
to leave the scene to more or less cool down, you know, cool down passion and
then come back later.
This theme, as it variously manifests itself in the lives of participants, sup-
ports an essential component that is neglected in contemporary definitions
of conflict. Donohue and Kolt (1992) and Wilmot and Hocker (2001) de-
fine conflict within the nexus of expressed sentiment. Absent in these
scholars’ definitions of conflict is the sense of internal dialogue that allows
the conflict participants to frame their subsequent actions precisely, either
nonverbally or verbally. Silence provides the space and time in which
internal dialogue can occur. Thus, in the light of the findings of this re-
search, the following modification (in brackets) of Wilmot and Hocker’s
(2001: 41) definition of conflict is necessary:
Conflict is the recognition of incompatible goals, scarce resources and interference
by two or more interdependent people [which is sometimes either realized through
internal dialogues and is later expressed or is expressed before it is actually real-
ized]. (Wilmot and Hocker 2001: 41)
Semiotic silence 303
This data-based definition better describes what a true intimate conflict is.
This definition achieves a research goal identified by Ting-Toomey in that
it ‘attempts to incorporate intrapersonal dissonance and interpersonal in-
teraction struggle in the management of intimate conflict’ (1994: 48).
Finally, the findings in my study point to the fact that silence is clearly
a variation of the avoidance strategy in conflict situations. Although the
manner in which silence was manifested varied — from pretending to be
asleep or not bringing up the conflict topic for discussion to diverting at-
tention to an activity other than the conflict — in each case, the partici-
pant is avoiding a discussion of the conflict at that moment. Just like the
other variations of communicated avoidance, for example, denial and
equivocation (Wilmot and Hocker 2001) or protecting ( Folger et al.
1997), the use of silence in conflict situations, led to issues being side-
stepped, at least temporarily. It also evoked negative emotional feelings.
However, unlike the other variations of avoidance, which lead to a failure
to discover a solution to the conflict issue, the use of silence in this study
is, paradoxically, the onset of discovering a solution to the conflict issue.
The participants in this research used silence precisely at the point where
they were deciding to come back again to the conflict table with mini-
mized negative emotions that might make them liable to use words they
would regret.
8. Conclusion
In this project, I set out to investigate how intimate couples used commu-
nicated silence to manage their conflicts. By analyzing the discourse re-
sponses of participants, four important themes emerged that relate to
how couples used silence. A reflection on these major themes led me to
draw one major conclusion about silence in communication that relates
to the importance of silence as a communicative tool: as a complementary
tool, silence is used to improve talk. A case supporting this observation is
where silence is used to control the context in which talk would occur. In
such situations, at the time and place where the conflict topic is revisited,
the original mood of participants changed. Participants also utilized si-
lence to reflect on and clarify conflict issues and their own feelings as
they related to the conflict. Silence a¤ords them an opportunity to cool
down their tempers; also, participants could select the best message after
they had deliberated in silence. As a result, the conflict is managed more
Silence is also used as manipulative strategy. The couple Araba and
George epitomizes this usage. George used silence to have his needs met,
304 J. Oduro-Frimpong
notwithstanding his acknowledgement that he was in the wrong. His wife,
Araba, noting the e¤ectiveness of her husband’s strategy, starts using si-
lence in situations when she wants her needs met.
The way silence is used in conflict situations in order to cease discussion
on an issue is another use of silence in communication. An example is the
case of Black Bear who indicates that he is silent in certain conflict cases
with his wife. From all of the above cases, what seeps through is the fact
that these participants deemed that nothing profitable could emerge out
from talk at that particular moment, hence the communicology of silence.
Thus, this research study reveals a wide range of functional uses for si-
lence as a communicative, conflict-management tool. Silence appears in
many constituted forms and is a dynamic learned behavior, with ex-
change rules that are individually negotiated in dyadic communication
situations. Occasionally, silence may be used as a move in a game of
strategy (to maintain the conflict). It may also have the impact of distanc-
ing partners, at least temporarily to ease the conflict. However, as it was
most typically used by the participants in this research study, silence func-
tioned to help married couples improve their management of the conflict
and achieve a better resolution than would have been achieved had talk
not been contextualized by moments of silence.
Inasmuch as the findings in this study are revelatory, the definitional
description can be enriched and specified, if future research utilizes a
data set of both members of married couples so as to have a more com-
prehensive view of how silence is used as conflict management strategy in
intimate relationships. Furthermore, as a matter of methodological valid-
ity (Lanigan 1994), other reported research in the literature may be cross-
validated for reliability by the use of phenomenological data and logic to
test theory and application, as was done in this study.
* My sincerest gratitude to Richard L. Lanigan, Mary Ann Renz, Wendy Papa, Shelly
Schaefer Hink, Adam Jaworski, and Lisa Brooten for comments and guidance, and
Kate Marie Clocksin for crucial support and encouragement, and continued inspiration
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human sexuality, and interpersonal relationships.
308 J. Oduro-Frimpong
... Some specific strategies family members utilize to complain their spouse or siblings in Québec community are identified as follows: 1) allusion to an offensive act/behavior; 2) justification of discontent; 3) request that the complainee justify his or her act/behavior; 4) mentioning the offensive act; 5) requesting a change in behavior; 6) adverse criticism of the hearer (Laforest, 2002). In addition to these verbal strategies, non-verbal ones such as silence (Saunders, 1985;Tannen, 1990;Oduro-Frimpong, 2007, 2011 and violent visual signals (Lee, 2008) are also employed to make complaints and accusations. ...
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This study inquires into Chinese working couples’ (both the husband and the wife have a paid job) marital power relations manifested in their use of face-threatening utterances in family situations. A quantitative approach is adopted and the data come from 4 commonly-accepted “realistic” Chinese TV dramas committed to contemporary Chinese working couple’s family life. First, we identify the strategies character couples utilize to criticize their spouse and also those they use to respond to spousal criticisms, and categorize them into different types according to their face-threatening intensity. Then the differences between husbands and wives in their use of these different types of strategies (in both making and responding to criticisms) are compared quantitatively. An analysis of these differences indicates that while no significant power differences are found in their ways to criticize their spouse, working wives demonstrate more power than working husbands in responding to the criticisms from their spouse. Overall, Chinese working wives have the same or even more marital power in conjugal relationship. This finding mirrors what has been proved in other research fields, that is, women’s marital power has been generally enhanced since the foundation of New China in 1949. In addition, we also find that working husbands are more inclined to avoid the criticisms from their wife and thus the involvement into marital confrontation, which reflects and verifies traditional Chinese stereotypes and expectations on men that they should be more generous and tolerant than women.
... Saunders argues that the families use silence to avoid confrontation when satisfactory outcomes are unlikely: "In arguments, when one of the participants ceases to respond, observers are quick to urge the others to drop the matter" (Saunders, 1985: 178). A more recent undertaking by Oduro-Frimpong (2007 investigates silence in the conflict management of married couples. Oduro-Frimpong reports that silences are used 1) in withdrawing from the conflict, i.e., in stopping oneself before one goes too far or says something one might regret, and 2) for pressuring the partner to give in, e.g., to coerce "the wife to later accede to [the husband's] sexual demands" (2011: 2333). ...
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Conversation analysts commonly agree that speakers tend to minimize gaps between adjacency pairs, and that silence in this position is likely to indicate trouble. However, there are surprisingly few sequential analyses that investigate what kinds of trouble silences indicate, particularly in conflict interactions and in intercultural contexts. This paper examines the practice of withholding a response as an interactionally meaningful device in domestic disputes among couples who use English as their common lingua franca (ELF). By investigating the ways in which these speakers orient to transition-relevance place silences in the subsequent turns, it is concluded that noticeable silences in domestic ELF conflict talk are treated by the interlocutors as marking the following: 1) avoiding self-incriminating second pair-parts, 2) resisting laughable-initiated changes of footing, 3) sustained disagreement, 4) taking offence, or 5) unsuccessful persuasion. The most common ways in which the speakers then orient to such silences are also reviewed. The analysis shows that turn-by-turn micro-analysis is an efficient methodology for examining the situational inferences of silence-in-interaction. Available at until May 16, 2018.
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Research on ostracism overwhelmingly suggests that being ostracized is a painful experience. Much of this research comes from the field of psychology and uses various adaptations of the Cyberball experiment to specifically examine the effects of being ostracized through the Temporal Model of ostracism. As a result, there is much less understanding about how ostracism is communicated interpersonally, the interpretive process of receiving an ostracism message, or the antecedent communication conditions that allow someone to recognize various cues as ostracism. Thus, the purpose of this manuscript was twofold. The first goal was to conduct an extensive review of literature to reveal the discrepancies, variations, and disunity of the operationalization and conceptualization of ostracism related terminology across disciplines and to show how such a landscape has made it difficult for communication scholars to study ostracism as communication. The second goal was to propose a new terminology, interpersonal ostracism messages (IOMs), and to define it in order to fill this gap. By using Expectancy Violations Theory and Relational Dialectics Theory, we further shape the definition of IOMs so that communication researchers can begin focusing on ostracism as an interpersonal communication phenomenon and begin looking beyond the psychological effects of being ostracized.
The paper approaches silence as a pragmatically relevant component of the dialogue. My aim is to illustrate the diversity of meanings and functions silence can discursively actualize, depending on the communicative situation. As a collectivistic, relationship oriented culture, Romanian culture is characterized by a preference for positive politeness strategies and accordingly by silence avoidance. Special attention will be given to the social, cultural, and individual parameters which determine the speaker to prefer silence to speech, as well as to the receiver’s position towards silence (accepted, rejected, or requested silences). I shall also have in view the relationship between the influence of individual factors and the socio-cultural tradition in actualizing silence. The data are excerpted from some corpora of spoken Romanian, as well as from a number of literary texts, given the fact that usually the latter reflect the prototypical behaviour of certain social groups or of some representatives of these groups.
Cover Blurb: Researching Lived Experience introduces an approach to qualitative research methodology in education and related fields that is distinct from traditional approaches derived from the behavioral or natural sciences—an approach rooted in the “everyday lived experience” of human beings in educational situations. Rather than relying on abstract generalizations and theories, van Manen offers an alternative that taps the unique nature of each human situation. The book offers detailed methodological explications and practical examples of hermeneutic-phenomenological inquiry. It shows how to orient oneself to human experience in education and how to construct a textual question which evokes a fundamental sense of wonder, and it provides a broad and systematic set of approaches for gaining experiential material that forms the basis for textual reflections. Van Manen also discusses the part played by language in educational research, and the importance of pursuing human science research critically as a semiotic writing practice. He focuses on the methodological function of anecdotal narrative in human science research, and offers methods for structuring the research text in relation to the particular kinds of questions being studied. Finally, van Manen argues that the choice of research method is itself a pedagogic commitment and that it shows how one stands in life as an educator.
This project was conceived to determine the feasibility of using a phenomenological method of enquiry, based on Giorgi’s existential psychological method, for explicating the experience of being-in-community as experienced within a Community Building Workshop. This project served to inform a larger Master of Social Science research project concerned with building community within business.