The Power in Silence
Effective communication, conversation and consultation are vital in our support of others to learn about, and discern risk. So vital in fact, that if I were asked; “what is the one of the most helpful things that we could do to better support others in dealing with risk? I would certainly include conversations high up on the list.
So this sounds pretty straight forward right? We can better support others simply by striking up more conversations, by chatting with people more, or by having a yarn?
But is it that simple? And, if it is, why do so many of us struggle to do this well?
In this piece, I ponder on how we can make our conversations effective. In particular, I explore the power that silence may play in this.
While it may seem counter-intuitive (particularly for us in the western world), silence can be one of the most impactful, and influential, part of any conversation. If our focus is on others, speaking less and listening more, are critical ingredients in the mix of what makes a conversation effective.
That is, when we direct our attention to what Buber calls, ‘meeting’ people, rather than simply existing with them, this is when we really join in relationship with others. Sometimes it might be what we don’t say that can create ‘meeting’, rather than existing.
Sometimes not responding with answers to questions, or concerns, is the most powerful response. And sometimes, when we allow the space and time for thinking and reflection, this is when others can learn so much. If we see our role to provide answers and solutions to every problem, perhaps this is one of the things that makes silence in conversation seem counter intuitive, and uncomfortable.
So why can silence be so hard to deal with at times? Why may we find it awkward and distressing? And, why do we so often feel the need to fill the space of silence with words and constant chatter?
I’ll share my own reflection on this.
I am a natural ‘extravert’, it’s my ‘preference’ and part of my personality to engage, embrace and generally enjoy being with others. I’m not shy. When I reflect on my childhood and early adulthood, this stands out very clearly for me.
However, in my late 30’s and certainly into my early 40’s I am beginning to realise the importance, and weight, that silence can bring to a conversation. I’m also relishing the feeling of peace that silence brings with it for me personally, hence my appreciation of reflection.
So why might this be?
The first thing I realise is, that as we all do, I have developed and matured in areas that have not been strengths (preferences) for me in the past. I’ve learnt that ‘extroverting’ doesn’t always work well in building and developing relationships. I’ve also realised that in some of my relationships with people who are less extraverted (or introverted), that they weren’t as strong as they could be. Could it be that they appreciate silence and all I was creating was noise?
While I thought I ‘knew’ some people in my life, it wasn’t until I learnt the power of silence, which of course equates to better, and more, listening, that I really got to ‘know’ them. It doesn’t always come naturally to me, but it is so powerful and valuable when it does happen. I feel that I have developed, and continue to build, a strong heuristic around stopping, listening and importantly, acknowledging the contentment of silence. I’m certainly doing more of it. It feels good.
So what is an example of where this heuristic might play out and how do I deal with it?
One recent example was during a training session that I was co-facilitating with a friend. They are keen to learn more about becoming a better communicator themselves. During one of the breaks in the session my friend noted; “Sometimes you allow a long time for people to answers questions when they don’t seem to know the answers. Some people looked worried at times because they just wanted an answer. Doesn’t that make you feel anxious?”
The short answer is, yes it does sometimes. However, when we don’t allow people the space and time to consider and work things out for themselves, how can we expect them to learn and be able to better deal with risk. If they become used to us providing answers, what does this mean for their own discernment of risk? Could silence sometimes be the best answer?
Changing this habit and developing a new heuristic was not easy though, there was 40 years’ worth of ‘extroverting’ that took time to change. It took me a long time just to recognise the need for it! So what else about silence may make it challenging to accept and allow?
Perhaps it is paradoxical? Being socially oriented beings, our tendency may be to think (and feel) that more conversations are a sign of healthy relationships. While this might be true in some instances, silence and ‘meeting’ may at the same time, be equally as good indicators of strong relationships. For instance, maybe a sign of a good relationship is how long we can allow silence to sit when we are together with others?
Perhaps the points I’ve made here resonate with you? Maybe you are more ‘introverted’ and you are saying; “yes, more silence please!”. Maybe you are very good at allowing silence and are thinking, why did it take you so long? Maybe you’ve know me for a while and have being thinking for years, I wish he would just be quite?
Or, maybe silence annoys you and you are thinking, this guy is crazy, conversations are about talking and engaging, not sitting in a pool of quietness.
Whatever your feelings at this point, I’d like to leave you with one final reflection on silence that may assist with your own reflection on this, no matter how you are feeling at this point.
It is not just silence with others that may make a difference in how we deal with risk, perhaps we need to become more comfortable with silence within ourselves? Would this allow more time for reflection, and time away from the many addictions of a busy life that we lead (e.g. social media)?
If we become more comfortable with silence and reflection within ourselves would this lead to better relationships with others?
Do you allow silence into your conversations? What do you do to create the space and time for silence? How does a period of silence make you feel? How do you feel about silence in your life?
Author: Robert Sams
Phone: 0424 037 112
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