“Know from the rivers in clefts and in crevices: those in small channels flow noisily, the great flow silent. Whatever’s not full makes noise. Whatever is full is quiet.”
Most people go to great lengths to avoid silence during conversations. They fill the silence with anything, regardless of how meaningful (or meaningless). It is as if silence has its own gravitational force that pulls words from our mouths to prevent a single moment of silence. Of course, we have all experienced those three seconds of silence that felt like three minutes.
Excellent leaders not only know the right questions to ask, but they also know how to patiently wait for an answer. They are comfortable with silence. If you are not comfortable with the silence, you will fill it with another question that leaves your original question unanswered and squelches engagement.
After asking an employee a question, your patience creates power. Resist the gravitational pull to fill the void. Your silence creates accountability for a response. You would rather wait for a well-thought-out response than get a quick, half-baked reply.
The sound of your silence lets your team’s voice be heard.
It’s kind of Zen-like to say this, but one of the most important parts of any conversation is the silence. Silence can serve many functions in a conversation and how you manage it determines your level of sophistication in communication. Here are some points to keep in mind about silence in communication.
* Silence can indicate hostility or disagreement:-
While it’s almost never an indication of indifference, silence can indicate that the other person is having negative emotions. When we experience anger, fear, or embarrassment, our thinking brain shuts down. We sit there fuming, unable to speak. Enraged and unable to find words. Afraid and scared speechless.
Some people are completely “flooded” by such emotions. Think of a teenager, for instance. They are prone to withdraw into sullen silence rather than using constructive discontent techniques, talking it out, and keeping the connection going.
* Silence can indicate profoundness, such as respect, awe or horror:-
Sometimes when we’re listening to someone else, we hear something that leaves us speechless because it really goes beyond words. Listening to someone talk about a dreadful trauma they’ve endured, or a beautiful, almost-sacred interaction with another human being, or a description of an awesome natural event such as a sunset or a volcano eruption are examples. Somehow when we listen to such things, the ordinary “Oh” and “Wow” and “That’s awesome” don’t seem enough, and so we fall silent.
* Silence can indicate contemplation:-
The more introverted your communication partner, the more likely they will think before they speak. Extraverts discover what they’re thinking and how they feel by talking. Introverts figure it all out inside their own head and heart before giving voice to it.
* Silence can be intentional rudeness:-
Because of the nature of the normal conversation, allowing an extended silence can be perceived as rudeness, and even meant that way. Refusing to reply to the other person is a way of ignoring them.
* Silence can create a listening space:-
When you are profoundly listening to someone, you create an open space for them to talk that’s almost palpable. Good listeners know how to do this, and it can be learned. It’s an openness that you transmit through nonverbal means. Study emotional intelligence and nonverbal communication, and you’ll pick up on these cues better.
For instance, if you really are giving your undivided attention to someone else, your pupils will widen. This is a sign that you’re willing to “let it all come in,” in the same way that opened pupils allow more light to come in.
Our pupils expand when we see something we like and contract when we want to shut something out – thus the “slanted pig eyes” of someone who’s furious. If you’re not mindful of this, it’s completely automatic (unconscious) and so reveals a lot to the other person who is savvy about it. However, with practice, you can bring it more under mindful control.
You can learn to give this sort of eye contact to someone intentionally. It’s part of knowing EQ and being mindful. And what a gift! It says, “Open up. I’m here. I’m listening. I want to hear what you have to say, and to understand.”
* Silence can indicate empathy:-
Silence can be an indication of empathy. When we are really tuning in to how the other person is feeling about what they’re saying, we’re listening more to the tone of their voice, cadence and speed rather than the actual words, and so replying with words may not be the attuned response.
We indicate this to the other by being slow to respond and not jumping into words. Sometimes sounds are more attuned… a murmur, a sigh, sucking in the breath in shock, soothing, cooing sounds, clucking, or shaking the head and going uh, uh, uh. Similarly, we use the sound “hmmm” when we are deep in thought contemplating what the other has said.
- Can allow silence when it’s effective or called for
- Avoid being pressured into “spilling” when silence is used manipulatively
- Offer silence as a gift or sign of respect
- Interpret the silence of others appropriately
- Understand the way other people and other cultures use silence
- Mindfully regulate the use of silence in a conversation
- Are comfortable with silence and understand its many uses.