Are You Afraid of Silence?

Years ago, when I first moved to the U.S. from a non-English speaking country, I had difficulty expressing myself fluently. My mind raced to form sentences correctly in English, something that I actually preferred to blurting out broken sentences. The result was… breaks of silence here and there. At one point, I even asked some of my colleagues and friends if that made me seem stupid (I can’t believe I even thought that). To my surprise, they said, “You always seem so wise and thoughtful because you take the time to think before you speak.”

Most of our conversations with colleagues, managers, employees, and others happen at a rapid fire pace. People ask questions and then rush to provide supporting details to back their opinions. If you can actually keep up, it seems more like following a tennis match than a dialogue. This is almost the standard operating procedure for handling any business matters. Rarely will you find people leaving gaps in conversations (or even during brainstorming meetings) as a way to engage others in participation. Silence seems to belong to nature, but not to the business environment. Most of us actually form what we want to say before others around us are even done speaking (that is considered not listening and is rude to some extent).

So why should we even talk about silence?

Ideas require silence.

Have you tried generating ideas during a loud office party or even a heated meeting? Oh? Well, doing so would be a total stroke of luck. See where I’m going with this? Whenever you need to hear something new, analyze a situation, consider another approach, or create a whole new paradigm, you need to use silence. As a leader, understand that silence gives people around you the space to think and ponder, instead of shooting from the hip (although that may produce some great ideas once in a while).

Why are most of us afraid of letting silence just be?

The other night my young daughter confided in me that she is afraid of the dark. It has quite a stifling effect on her and, of course, she is looking for someone she trusts to support her… me.

Just like the dark, silence looms in the background, giving us a feeling of inadequacy (“I hope someone will just say something already…”) This is exactly why human beings look for someone to fill the pauses in conversations with words. They are afraid of silence. But the truth is that you don’t have to continue talking nonstop. It is okay to pause and have silence. When you pause, you create a space that could be filled by your ideas or those of others. Imagine how that could change your organization.

Where could you leave more room for silence?