Silence is Worth the Effort
Listen to the void.
Don’t fill it up.
Wait some more.
Give it space, give it time.
Listen and be open.
Stay connected and breathe.
Silence is a powerful tool. I use it in my coaching practice and in teaching and speaking engagements. Silence creates space, silence creates room to think and ponder, silence takes time and silence is a choice.
We’re conditioned to “speak up” and chided with a pseudo-inviting “don’t be shy”. We often feel compelled to fill the space after another person has spoken in order to respond to or acknowledge what has been said. We also fill the void so there’s no empty space and feel anxious when no one is speaking. These are all examples of social conformity; we’re taught to fill in the space between us: between words, between people, between moments.
I encourage you to be silent. To take a pause. To take a breath. When listening, a pause will demonstrate that you are attentive and waiting to hear more. In coaching, listening is the primary job and pausing or being silent is a valuable tool in helping people open up, share their thoughts and take a moment to consider what comes next.
When I first started coaching being silent was the hardest thing for me to do. I felt compelled to fill in the space and found myself feeling very uncomfortable, even anxious, being silent. In my role as consultant I demonstrated my aptitude by providing answers, being swift in those answers and demonstrating my knowledge. In coaching, my knowledge didn’t pertain, so my silence left me feeling incredibly helpless. So, for me, silence became a purposeful act. And it took great effort not to fill in the space, not to answer or respond to my client, and effort to simply remain quietly engaged.
A few years later I find that silence is a wonderful tool. It is essential in coaching as it creates space for my client to develop his or her own thoughts and answers. By staying present and engaged without speaking I am able to inhabit a moment with another person and stay in their story without bringing it back to me, my expertise, or my answers. Or my anxiety about not talking. This is much more client-centric than anything else I can do; it is also the most empathetic and humane action I can take.
I encourage my clients and students to use silence in their work. To take a pause before answering a question or to breathe deeply for a moment. To be silent in meetings and let others take the lead. To ask questions and then actively, fully listen to the answers they provide. And by doing so you can get grounded and center yourself which is equally important in leading others and being a focussed team member.
Silence is a gift, silence is a space, silence is a tool. Use it and give it graciously. Use it to impact your relationships but also use it for yourself. To create a quiet place where you’re grounded and comfortable. Where you’re calm and present. Where your mind is quiet. And you’re fully engaged.
Read these articles about the power of silence, in work, leadership and in negotiation: