The power of silence in communication

Silence – even just a pause that allows for stillness – sounds so inviting. Yet, silence can make a lot of people uncomfortable. Maybe it’s our North American culture that makes us want to rush in and fill any vacuum created when talking stops. Maybe we’ve become used to a hurried speed of life, with instant messaging, texting, and constantly updated 24-hour news in the background.

Silence seems like the opposite of communication. But used strategically, silence can set the stage for extraordinarily effective communication.

Silence opens up space in a conversation. Susan Scott in her seminal work Fierce Conversations advises: “Slow down the conversation, so that insight can occur in the space between words and you can discover what the conversation really wants and needs to be about.” Indeed, Scott talks about letting silence do the heavy lifting in a conversation.

Silence can invite your conversation partner to keep speaking, keep telling their story. This can make the other person know that they are really being listened to, and encourage them to share more openly.

Silence can allow you to consider the impact of what you’re about to say. It can prepare the way for words that are more intentional, more insightful, with more substance.

Bernard Ferrari repurposes the well-known 80/20 rule when he aims for listening 80 percent of the time and talking the other 20 percent when engaged in conversation. In his book Power Listening, Ferrari suggests walking a fine line between keeping quiet and participating in such a way as to advance the conversation.

So, experiment with slowing down and making use of silence – it may get you to insights and mutual understanding a whole lot quicker.


About the author

Steven Steven Moyes is an executive and career coach who works with emerging leaders, executives, and business owners to define what they want to achieve, develop an effective strategic plan, and get extraordinary results.

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