How often do you experience silence? The rare kind of silence that is stark, unmistakeable and leaves an indelible impact on you. Chances are it’s relatively rare, if ever.
And why would you need it, when all day, every day we can be surrounded by noise. Vehicle sounds, music, conversation, tv, radio, the unmistakeable ping of an email arriving in the inbox or WhatsApp message – sound is a constant in our lives.
It can be similar in a conversation. One person talking incessantly, filling every available space with hmm, err, you know or other well-used filler phrases that leaves no space in the conversation for the listeners’ brain to catch up and process what’s being communicated. As a result, the listener may lose concentration, or miss the important points, and then eventually stops listening as they wait for a gap to jump in with their own response. It ends up being unsatisfying on both sides of the interaction.
Silence can help develop new awareness and give us freedom from constant noise and pressure
Why have we become so afraid of silence? Is it because we believe silence to be a scarce commodity, that needs to be won from others? Or perhaps we fear being seen as weak or unintelligent if we take a few moments before responding to a question or comment. Maybe it’s a fear that the time will be monopolised by another individual whose message ends up getting amplified over yours. In the end, the act of taking up ‘airtime’ reduces the opportunities for both parties to think, reflect and take a conversation into the unknown.
The late Judith E. Glaser author of Conversational Intelligence
talked about three levels of conversational intelligence that create the capacity to take relationships to a deeper level:
LEVEL I - TRANSACTIONAL (ASK & TELL)
Listening to confirm what we already know.
LEVEL II – POSITIONAL (ADVOCATE & INQUIRE)
Defending our point of view or persuading others.
LEVEL III – TRANSFORMATIONAL (SHARE & DISCOVER)
Where we discover what we don’t know; we are willing to be influenced and are likely to ask questions for which we have no answer.
It is only in the Level III type of conversation that both parties can move into new areas of thinking or develop new ideas as they choose to put ego aside to explore the unknown together. And that will involve allowing space for silence.
Leaders need not be afraid of silence. It shows reverence and consideration; it gives greater impact to words when they are bookended by silence, and of course every person who’s ever conducted a negotiation knows how powerful a weapon silence can be. For trainers too, silence is a powerful reflection tool because when we become aware of our own thoughts there’s nowhere to hide. Instead, self-talk becomes the sound in our heads.
Silence can help develop new awareness and give us freedom from constant noise and pressure that can cause inherent stress on our bodies and allow us to channel our energies. Here are three ways to create more silence at work.
1. Encourage group thinking time
Create space in meetings for thinking time. For example, Circles, the tech company that delivers virtual spaces that foster connection in groups, incorporates the principle of thinking time into their standard meeting agenda for groups. They encourage groups to ask a question – then set a timer for 30 seconds thinking time before anyone responds. This allows those who may be more reflective or introvert an opportunity to respond rather than more dominant voices taking precedence.
2. Turn off alerts during focus periods
Many individuals use the popular Pomodoro technique to segment their day into 25-minute bursts of focused activity. With no active alerts the brain can concentrate better which can lead to greater productivity.
3. Create regular silence slots
Plan to create space for silence regularly. Whether it’s alone time in the bathroom, or a mindfulness meditation – your brain and your body will thank you.