How would you like to strongly leverage the benefits of using silence into most of your interactions, presentations and negotiations? Shhh, it’s no secret.
When last can you remember to have experienced complete silence? Did it also feel strange to you? Why does it feel so strange when we experience silence? It seems we aren’t comfortable when there isn’t “something happening” around us. Isn’t it remarkable that we have become so accustomed to constant “noise”, such that when it isn’t there we feel strange?
Some of you may remember the old Tremeloes song “Silence is Golden”? Maybe because it is so rare.
I’d like to look at this word from a few perspectives today in that it can have a profound effect on our “business of life”.
The Present Moment
In his book “The Power of Now” and numerous subsequent books Eckhard Tolle speaks of being in the present. That most fear, worry, judgement and other negatives manifest either from us dwelling in our thoughts in the past or in the future. That we can only really experience life to the full when we are totally in the present. It has become part of my journey to practice this being in the present as much as I can. I have learned that such being present is often best accompanied by using silence.
Of course the opposite is just as true, that when we create some time to plan or to think, that is just as much better achieved when we can do so in silence, right? I love hearing: “cabin crew, arm doors and cross check”. That means I’m in an airplane about to head off without any external interference, so that I can choose to take time out to think. (Unless of course there is an interesting person sitting next to me and I choose to go into networking mode.)
Listening and Using Silence.
Another area where we need to practice silence is when we are listening. Would you agree with me that in our busy, competitive world we are fast losing our ability to really actively listen? We are so focused on interpreting what is being said so we can prepare our response to it, either to defend our position or make ourselves look good, that we simply don’t really listen any more, right? Good active listening is a respectful form of silence in which we acknowledge to the person speaking that they have something to say and that we are interested in hearing it. In her book “Time to Think” Nancy Kline goes a step further, suggesting that the quality of our listening to someone actually enhances the quality of their thinking because they can fully concentrate about what they are trying to say without fear or concern that we will interrupt them and their thought. Amazing.
Questions and Using Silence.
I also teach my clients that when they have asked someone a question that they grant the other some silence in order to consider their answer and to respond to the question. We often jump in and rescue them, don’t we? Or further expand the question with another one. I have found more and more “lazy thinkers” that like to use a “cop out” and say “I don’t know”. You know my response to that already, don’t you: “Well, what if you did know?” And then remain silent until they answer. That forces them to engage and in a space of silence, allow their unconscious to feed them some ideas. That way they own the answer. Your rescued answer is yours and chances are they won’t “own it”.
Using Silence as a Tactic.
I guess all of you in a relationship will have experienced “the silent treatment” from your partner at some stage. Often difficult to interpret, usually infuriating, but sometimes quite effective, isn’t it?
Have you ever experienced someone on the phone simply remaining silent for a while? Unnerving, isn’t it? Maybe a fact of the quality consistency of our telecommunication waves but it’s amazing how often you hear the other person say: “are you still there?” Of course this can be used most effectively in applying our influencing skills. Keeping a silent pause on the phone can disrupt the other person’s thinking, particularly in a heated discussion. I teach my clients to use that to enhance their outcomes.
Silence certainly works when someone is “ranting and raving”. Other than asking them again and again “is there anything else?” so as to be sure that they have “got it all off their chest”, I have learned that the best strategy by far is to encourage them to keep talking (or shouting) while I keep a complete silence, just nodding and giving them my attention until they “run out of steam”. It is often only at that point that some form of “reason” returns.
I certainly teach the use of silence in my negotiation skills training. I teach that in having created the right situation with the right “pressure question” and seeing the opposition squirming, to let them. To shoosh – even if the pause or silence becomes uncomfortably and seemingly unbearably long. Let it be. Some people suggest at that point that:”he or she that speaks next – loses”. It really unsettles people and distracts them from their line of thought or argument or in fact making a concession they might not have been willing to make (yet).
So What Next?
So when last have you actually taken some time out for some “time to think”? You know, found a quiet place without risk of interruption or interference? And then just allowed yourself the luxury of reflecting about where you are currently in your life or your life’s work? And contemplated where you want it to go? And then just in complete silence allowing your right brain to feed you some ideas and scenarios. In today’s consistently loud and busy world, I find it so necessary to make that silent time. If it isn’t something you practice regularly, go on – why not give it a try? I’m sure you will find it unusually useful.
And if you are curious how you might enhance your communication skills, your influencing skills and your negotiation skills by using silence as a tactic, why not engage a coach to help you develop these as skills that help differentiate you from the average? Go on, contact me and Let’s Talk Coaching
Nick Gole says
Very good insight Heiner. Definitely have to try this out more often. It is so true half the time we never listen as either we are trying to prove that we know more or trying to prove the other one wrong. Very well articulated. Regards Nick