Paul Schrodt

Making Noise About the Silent Treatment

Philip J. and Cheryl C. Burguières Professor of Communication Studies
Director of Graduate Studies, Communication Studies

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Paul Schrodt’s magnetic personality and relatable research have made him one of the leading voices in communication studies.

Researchers know that making a study appealing to both academics and the general public is no easy task. But it’s one that Paul Schrodt has mastered. A leading expert in interpersonal communication, his work has been published in more than 60 academic journal articles and also landed him in the pages of media staples like USA Today.

Paul is a doer.

He constantly has a new research project on his plate or on his mind.

One of Paul’s latest studies, published in the March 2014 Communication Monographs, focuses on the infamous type of communication shutdown known as the “silent treatment.”

Taking the media by storm, findings from his study have been the topic of articles in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Salon, The Chicago Tribune and many others, reaching as far as the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom.

“I think the media latched on to the topic because it’s so relatable,” says Paul. “At some point in our lives, we’ve all been the receiver — or the giver — of the silent treatment.”

The silent treatment is part of what communication researchers call the “demand-withdrawal” pattern. It occurs when one partner repeatedly approaches the other with criticism or a request (perhaps for attention or change) and is met with silence or total avoidance.

Paul led a national team of researchers who analyzed 74 studies on conflict and the silent treatment involving more than 14,000 participants. The verdict? The silent treatment speaks volumes about a relationship.

“The demand-withdrawal pattern is one of the most damaging types of relationship conflict, says Paul. “It’s also one of the hardest patterns to break.”

But there’s hope. To avoid this “dark side” of interpersonal communication, Paul advises that becoming aware of the pattern is the first step in breaking the demand-withdrawal cycle. Each partner should consider his or her role and consider the other person’s viewpoint — then talk it out.

Paul’s other research passions are as varied as his silent treatment discoveries are deep.

“Ultimately, my ‘dream’ research project would examine how stepfamily members communicate to achieve a shared social reality that enables healthy family functioning,” he shares.

Like many doers at TCU, Paul is always looking ahead for his next challenge.

“There’s still a lot of great research to be done in the field.”