I get it — silence is golden. I’ve heard that statement more times than I can count, likely because I talk a lot. I don’t take it personally because I have come to understand the impact of the pause.
As a Mediator, my super-power is helping people communicate. Whether face-to-face or virtually, communication is usually most effective when it’s verbal. That means talking to exchange information, to convey emotions, to make demands, requests, or ultimatums. (Yes, that’s the plural of “ultimatum.” I looked it up.) Resolution of a conflict or simply understanding the other person’s point of view can only occur after communication. Obviously, we need to talk to each other.
So where does the golden power of silence come in? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Silence can actually be very good for communication, and here are three of the many, many reasons why:
- Maintaining a bit of silence will afford you the opportunity to really listen to what’s being said. Yes, really listen.
- Creating your own space for silence can actually help you to focus on getting your message across with fewer words.
- You will arrive at an understanding and/or a resolution faster if you carve out a moment for silence.
Try to remember that using silence as a tool in a heated conversation can derail what otherwise might have been a harsh response. For example, your mother-in-law asks you what you think of her newly-dyed turquoise hair. Instead of telling her she looks ridiculous, you say nothing. You’ve communicated that you don’t like her hair color without saying something hurtful.
Calming silence will show empathy to your grieving friend who just lost her father to a long battle with Alzheimer’s. You chose not to offer her platitudes like, “he’s in a better place,” or “he’s not suffering any more.” Ask anyone who’s ever heard those statements after a death in the family and you’ll learn that they weren’t the slightest bit helpful. Instead, sitting quietly with your friend will tell her that you are sharing her sadness.
Are you aware that silence also has health benefits? Picture this: you’re having lunch by yourself in a restaurant, catching up on your reading, and the person sitting nearby is watching a video at high volume on his phone. (Maybe you can tune that noise out, but I cannot.) So you start feeling annoyed, angry, and stressed. You pack up your stuff and retreat to the solitude of your car, and within moments the silence has alleviated your stress.
Scientists also tell us that periods of silence throughout the day will stimulate the growth of new brain cells, and equally as important, enhance sleep.
Abraham Lincoln famously said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”
I’m not going to say another word.