No, I’m not talking about “the silent treatment” that we’ve all used from time to time to make a point. “What’s wrong?” your partner asks, and you respond “Nothing,” which can be a truthful answer or, more likely, a passive-aggressive one.
This concept is different. It’s powerful. Maybe even revolutionary. But it’s not exactly new news. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a noted UCLA psychology professor opined way back in 1967 that communication was only 7% verbal. His research revealed that 38% of all communication was conveyed by tone of voice, and a whopping 55% by body language. Now, let’s fast forward 50 years and, truth be told, I’m not sure I agree. Then again, I’m not a psychologist.
It’s obvious that the people who seek my help as a Mediator are having a hard time communicating with each other. I often find that many of those in conflict need to get the last word, need to be right, and/or need to win. Is that the purpose of communication? I don’t think so, and probably neither do you. A better communication goal would be to share information in order to get to common ground or reach a decision. Yet that doesn’t always happen, and misunderstandings, relationship problems, anger and hurt may result.
So, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Silence can actually be very good for communication, and here’s why:
- Maintaining silence in your communication will afford you the opportunity to really listen to what’s being said.
- It can help you focus on getting your message across in fewer words.
- You will get to resolution faster.
This isn’t easy to do. It’s human instinct to fill the empty space with words. We are uncomfortable with silence in a conversation, so we rush to fill the void with sometimes useless excess. Do we really need that many sentences? Our jibber-jabber can be as overwhelming as The Cheesecake Factory’s menu, when it’s more likely that the limited choices at In-N-Out will serve us just as well.
When you’re practicing this technique, I’d suggest trying it face-to-face rather than on the phone. I say this from personal experience when the other party has literally hung up on me thinking the call got dropped. In person, you can hold up your index finger to silently convey that you need a moment, or close your eyes to indicate you’re thinking before speaking. (What a concept!)
To achieve greater success with the power of silence, you’ll also benefit by changing your mindset. Silence doesn’t have to be awkward. It can be significant, and frequently impactful.
Try it a few times and let me know how it’s working.