We were sitting in silence at a Friends (Quaker) Meeting service. The silence was broken by a man who stood up and starting ranting about his concerns and political perspectives. He became louder and louder. This was not the place for this type of expression. Yet, what happened next was powerful. Slowly, people from the meeting started gathering around him.He got louder, almost screaming, as they got closer. More and more people encircled him. Each person added a circle of silence, a spirit of compassion around the man. Slowly, he got quieter and eventually he sat back down into his own quiet. Once he settled, we returned to our seats, and returned to silent meeting. Ever since that experience, I am reminded of how silence can be a tool for building a community of compassionate collaboration.
Where have you seen silence used effectively?
One of the hardest things I teach managers is how to be quiet. So often managers ask questions of a team and then start talking, filling in the silence because it feels uncomfortable. Counting to ten in silence can help let others fill the space. Some people need silence to think. Others will speak up because the manager has decided not to answer his/her own questions. Silence gives others permission to think, speak and engage in collaborative conversations. Managers who get comfortable with silence learn more about their team and themselves.
Some people have strengths that like to move forward quickly and they will even take charge to ensure it happens. They are solution driven.These are great strengths and all teams need them. And yet, there are times when galloping ahead can work against us. Silence is a great way to check if it’s time to gallup, trot, walk or stand still. Asking a powerful question followed by silence is a great way to check when a team is aligned and ready to move forward. A powerful question might be as simple as…What else do we need to consider? (pause 10 seconds at least). What have we missed? (silence) Let the team answer the question, let them mull and consider the options.
What’s your favorite powerful question to create a pause in dialogue? create time for thinking?
This week try inserting some silence into your communication strategy at home, work and in your community. Notice what happens. Are people uncomfortable? Or are they relieved to have time to think? Do they fill the silence by talking or do they consider it an opportunity to clarify their thoughts? Take a moment to let silence encircle the people around you with compassion and respect. Let me know what happens. Silence can be a great tool for building collaboration.