In an era of cacophonic noise, the world needs a good measure of silence. Considered the cornerstone of character, silence teaches us self-discipline, staying power, patience, respect for yourself and others, and reverence.
“Successful people have the ability to practice effective silence,” says motivational speaker and executive trainer Cynthia Krosky. Considering that effective leaders spend 70% of their time listening and only 30% of their time talking, she says they play an important role in helping others understand the value of silence. However, leaders have their work cut out for them in helping younger employees understand, appreciate and harness disciplined stillness. The art of silence appears to be lost on younger generations. A silent mind, freed from the constant onslaught of thoughts and thought processes, is vital for personal and spiritual development, and ultimately discovering who you really are.
Doing without the chattering within
From the moment we wake up in the morning, until after we fall asleep, the constant chattering of our ego-selves – an endless stream of daydreams, memories, deliberations, worries and plans – disturbs the natural quietness of our minds, says writer and teacher Steven Taylor in an article published by New Renaissance magazine.
Instead of just dealing with situations as they arise, people tend to mull over tiny inconveniences and uncertainties, and imagine all kinds of possible scenarios about future events. This creates many problems, because your thoughts become your reality. When your mind is constantly chattering, it is impossible to pay full attention to your surroundings, activities and the people you interact with. “Our attention is always partly taken up by our thoughts. So, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, we’re never completely there,” says Taylor.
Harnessing the power of silence
Marketing consultant Liz Tahir says silence is the secret tool of power negotiators who know when to listen, when to remain silent and when to use facial expressions to make a point. She offers five tips to effectively use silence as a communication tool:
1. Listen more
Most people don’t truly listen when others talk. They just can’t remain silent long enough to really hear them. Chances are they are just marking time until they can jump in and start talking. Listening is active, not passive. When you listen well, you gain the trust and confidence of others. When you encourage others to talk, they tell you their needs, their wants, their dreams, and their plan of action. In short, they give you information. When you make good eye contact while listening, people feel valued.
2. Try the 10-second strategy
Silence makes most of us uncomfortable, especially during negotiations. The next time you negotiate with someone, and they say something like ‘well, that’s my offer’, don’t utter a word for 10 seconds.They will jump in with another offer or more information, anything to break the silence. When you get comfortable with 10 seconds, bump it up to 20 seconds. The silence will hang like lead in the air and drive them crazy.
3. Ask more questions
A good way to learn silence is to ask questions. The person asking the questions controls the conversation. The purpose is to get the other person to talk, to perhaps verify your information and, really, to make them feel more comfortable working with you and that they can trust you.
4. Pause more between sentences
Author Mark Twain says it best: The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause. A recent study shows that when listening to a musical symphony, a one- or two-second break between movements triggers a flurry of mental activity. This means a one- to two-second pause between sentences could be powerful in helping others understand your messages. Fast talkers have to learn to be more deliberate and practice the art of pausing between sentences.
5. The flinch; the shrug; and the smile
Although there will always be someone who misunderstands or misinterprets your silence, these actions carry powerful messages, as you remain totally silent. The flinch is the quick, jerky movement of the shoulders, with a pained look on your face, as if you have just been stricken. It sends an immediate message that you did not like what you heard. Once you flinch, then what? Remain silent. Wait for the other party to speak and they quickly will, probably while scrabbling to sweeten the deal. The shrug of the shoulders sends the message that you just don’t care; you’re not interested. Again, remain silent.