Written on: October 26, 2017
by Elisa Coleclough
Yes, it is a title of a Depeche Mode single and album. But, no, I am not going to talk about that fabulous band.
The subject that brings me to write today, is the use of silence in communication and conversations. And it is not that awkward silence which is produced when no one knows what to say: it is silence that takes control and gains power over any communication.
Let me begin by saying that silence is something that I had always wanted to use. Eventhough, I had attended communication trainings, I never seemed to fully incorporate its daily use whatsoever.
When I got married, my husband comes from a different culture. He has incorporated the use of silence break, and he comes across as assertive, wise and good listener. So, no excuse. I applied myself to ask him to help me incorporate the use of the silence breaks. At very first, he was not even aware of how powerful the use of his silence was, as he had learned it from his father and grand-father to behave that way naturally.
There are some people whose cultural background helps them use certain non-verbal tools. If you are one of those lucky ones, please give me your advice to continue expanding on more nonverbal tools. If you are not, then read below, you might find it useful and strategic for your conversations:
Better listener. My husband is way too a great listener, he reminds me to stop at times and takes time to listen, which is something that if you are talkative like me, it is something that you constantly need to work on. Allowing time and space to the other to find the words, to feel at ease and organize thoughts will make you more effective listener.
Gain control. There have been many times, in which in a conversation the use of silence has helped me to pull myself together. My inner voice says “take the time, breathe” and there I find that the actual pause, makes me think twice what I am about to say. I find myself being more organized on my ideas, and thoughts and be more effective communicator. By giving space, you ask space. So start using the magical words: words “take a moment to think” or “give some time to think”. You will see amazing results.
Shift the focus. When you want other people to realize they are making a mistake, sometimes the more you say, the less they listen. So by using the silence and rephrasing at times with long pauses. The other person is able to reason what he/she said. Give time and ask time. Remember Greek philosophers took time to consider, organize and dissert. It is not about who is the fastest speaker, it is about a two-way effective conversation.
Sometimes, less is more…
Setting limits in a non-threatening way. The smart use of pauses, can be effective when disarming someone who is attacking us. Also, by using silence in a conversation and nonverbal you can express disapproval without being upfront or confrontational. Try it once and you will see the amazing results.
One more thing, do not over use silence, or may come across as conceited, distant or cold.
Use it, but don’t abuse it.
Finally, I want to share with you an anecdote of how the silence was a “friend” in difficult conversations. Recently, I was taking part in a Skype conversation with my relatives, deciding how we were going to handle certain inheritance. Needless to say, when family, money and interests come together combination is explosive.
After many attempts of reaching to a final conclusion we had spent many weekends and we could not reach an agreement. There were two factions: the family and my cousin.
My uncles had decided that I should be the one handling the conversation on their behalf with my cousin (who was stubborn and deaf to any other ideas).
So, I prepared for the family call, with all the ideas, common ground points, etc which we all had decided together (except my cousin). I did prepare like I would for a work presentation or meeting. After all, it was the family happiness at stake and that is really important. My husband told me to remember to let him speak more. To use silence wisely, to rephrase but not to judge. To be in control at all times.
Conversation started differently, but it also achieved unprecedented result. I only spoke strategically. In the end using more silence than words, not only did my cousin come to terms with the rest of us but he apologized for his earlier behavior.
Conclusion: I was surprised to see how silence when used properly makes you be in control of you and of the situation for favorable results.
Shift focus from the persona to the topic. The other speaker has time to think through. In this case, by using silence, my cousin realized that he was being selfish and greedy to the rest of the family. However, he did not feel judged or criticized and that made him move to reach common ground. So instead of us telling him what to do, we created the space so he realized himself. My family is still a united family which in terms of inheritances, is quite a victory, don’t’ you agree?
I leave you with one final phrase of my own:
At times, the mouth is like a gun and words are like bullets: it is wiser not to make us of none, because there is no way of taking back a bullet once fired…
So, this was my personal experience about the use of silence. Please tell me what yours is? Are you a master of silence? How is silence used in your culture? Can you share some tips with me? Do you want to learn how to use it? Waiting for comments in the box below.
Have a great day/week, Eli.