Silence has many benefits: it promotes creativity, relaxation, and deep sleep. With the right non-verbal signals, it signals confidence.
Maybe the best use of silence is as a way to understand others. Giving someone your full attention is a compliment. Do you remember the last time anyone gave you undivided, silent attention? The ability to be silent, paired with non-verbal acknowledgements like nodding or leaning forward, is critical for consultants and others who have people-focused jobs.
Silence can also be used to press for information. Most of us can’t bear a prolonged silence, and after a few seconds, we’ll say anything to put an end to it. It is hard work to converse with a very quiet person, and you might even blurt out something you had no intention of sharing, out of sheer desperation. For that very reason, detectives and therapists use deliberate silence to gather information to solve a case or help a patient. A clever teacher might allow an uncomfortable silence to motivate students into participating in class. A negotiator might respond to an initial offer in silence to provoke the other person into making a better offer.
Silence can help you manage situations that are highly stressful:
- If you do any public speaking, silence can make your presentation more impactful while helping you retain equilibrium as a facilitator. A short silence before you begin speaking creates an impression that you are about to say something important, while a deliberative pause before you answer a question gives your response more weight.
- If possible, stay calm if someone raises their voice. It effectively puts an end to the shouting. Greeting the person with silence is a quickest, most powerful way to seize the upper hand. Refraining from speaking will also protect you from saying something you might later regret.
Sometimes silence really does speak louder than words. This is true with empathy. Sometimes we can feel pain or hurt for a close friend or family member, and there isn’t anything to say. And when you feel a deep sense of happiness or wonder, silence is the best way to be in the moment.
Silence as a Weapon
Silence is only bad when it’s used for selfish reasons. This most often happens when it’s used to act out anger or control others.
Silence in Anger: Refusing to acknowledge someone’s presence is very different from silently listening to them. Children sometimes resort to the silent treatment to get something they want. When adults do this, it can be very hurtful. Refusing to speak to a spouse or family member is a passive-aggressive attempt to embarrass the other person. Silence used to shame others results in a loss of respect.
Silence to Control: People use silence detrimentally by withholding necessary information. The party planning committee decides not to invite a certain person to the office Christmas party. A bully takes away another’s child textbook, so he can’t complete his homework assignment. Insider trading enriches a few at the expense of many. Silence used to control breeds distrust.
You can realize many personal and professional benefits by practicing silence, but it may take some time to develop skill in this area.
Here are some tips to help you develop the habit of quiet:
- Spend a few minutes in silence each morning in silent reflection about the day ahead. Taking time to collect your thoughts and be intentional about your state of mind is worth a 15-minute investment. Alternatively, you may find it more relaxing to simply focus on your breathing.
- Really focus on what others say to you. There is a natural tendency to formulate your response while you’re listening, but refrain. The more you do this, the better understanding you’ll have of those around you.
- If you aren’t listening to another person, turn your focus inward. If you can focus on your breathing instead of worrying about what others may be thinking, you’ll notice positive changes begin to occur naturally, in particular decreased stress and an improved ability to concentrate.