Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Sound of Silence

In my efforts to go out among fellow bloggers and see what people are saying, I read a post by Bert Decker on the Power of Pause, which started me pondering about a similar powerful tool – silence. Silence is basically the same tool as the pause…it is just longer and there is no expectation that another comment will follow. Every quarter I have the privilege of guest lecturing Tanya Menon's Power and Influence in Organizations at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. The concept of using silence as a persuasion tool is always an epiphany. The idea to just stop talking rarely occurs to the students as we work our way through workshop conflict situations. Most of us are afraid of silence and do anything to fill it. We avoid the 'pregnant pause', put background music on to relieve the 'uncomfortable' silence, talk over the top of each other to make sure we get heard and believe that thinking while we speak is somehow better than thinking before we speak.

What is the how to? Just stop talking. When? When you have forgotten what you are talking about. When you notice someone look at their watch. When you wonder why you are not winning the argument? When you don't know what it is you are arguing. When you get tired of the sound of your own voice (that is a tough one I know). Or, after you have spoken three sentences. Be silent. If no one comments or takes it from there chances are you have not said anything worth commenting on. The solution is not to start talking again. Stay very, very still and quiet. Sooner or later someone will say something. Unless of course they read the advice on "how silence makes the jabberwocky dig himself a hole."

How do you feel when you hear nothing?

How do you keep yourself from filling the silence?


Steven Clough said...

Really great post Theresa.

It's amazing how aware you become to this stuff once you begin learning about it.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Since reading this post I've become much more aware of when people SHOULD be using silence instead of an "ummm" or "ahhh". How do you politely tell someone to zip it? Maybe I should forward them the post!

Anonymous said...

I find myself wanting to fill in the deadair all the time. I believe it is inherited from my mother who has to talk constantly. Since reading your post, I have made a conscious decision to take longer pauses and not jump into talking everythign there is a break in the action.

Theresa Zagnoli said...

Silence can be scary. Occassionally I find myself having conversations with myself during the lull in a conversation. These converstaions are never good. They are dominated by the voice of insecrity and rarely contribute anything positive to my self esteem. So the next step after you learn to hush is what to do with your overactive brain during that few seconds. Mentally counting mountain goats doesn't work, neither does redecorating your den because you then tune out the moment. I watch. Watch the person, try to make eye contact (very weird at first), observe their comfort level. What tricks do you have?