By Guest Blogger, Marguerite Orane
“But isn’t silence a sign of weakness?” my coachee asked. We were discussing a difficult meeting he had with his peers, who had pummeled him with questions for which he was unprepared. On reflection, he was very dissatisfied with his response which he felt came across as being defensive. We were exploring options for how he could have better responded. I suggested one choice was to keep silent.
Silence is a spiritual practice of most religions. It is exhorted as a place to go, a state of being where one taps into inner wisdom. Those who regularly practice silence can attest to how calming and life-affirming it is. We always feel better when we emerge from the silence. Yet, in the hurly-burly, breakneck speed of business silence does not seem to be similarly viewed. The voice is valued since opinions are what matter. Our silence may suggest that we have nothing to say, no point of view or position to stand for and so we worry that others might conclude that we add little value. In meetings silence seems to be space to be filled very quickly. As a workshop facilitator, I have observed silence intercepted by someone raising a topic totally unrelated to the discussion thread just to fill the gap. I have had CEOs express concern that “so-and-so” did not speak, even though I observed him actively listening and participating. And perhaps you have a team member who says very little, except that every now and then, she shares a few words that turn out to be very well-timed wisdom.
Is it time to rethink silence? Can we use silence in a positive way? Can it be of value to leaders and their teams? Based on my own experience of silence and of using it consciously, I believe that it can be a very powerful tool for communication and can be used very effectively by leaders as it:
- Allows us to truly listen. We cannot listen if we are speaking. And we cannot truly listen if we are not talking but thinking about the next thing we plan to say. Choosing to be silent means that we focus totally on what the other person is saying. When they are finished, we remain silent before composing our response, if any is needed.
- Garners wider participation. Often when we choose to be silent, someone else will fill the space thus allowing for the participation of others in your team. Someone will always break the silence, and it does not have to be you.
- Allows you to gather your composure in difficult situations. Silence gives you space and time to choose your words carefully and then make a response from a place of power.
- Surfaces the unspoken. Often, the words we speak and our body language are out of sync, causing confusion and distrust. Silencing our voice may actually clarify our message. Our bodies can still convey leadership; for example by standing or sitting straight and making eye contact we convey that our silent voice is not an indicator of weakness, but of great strength.
“The silence between the notes is what creates the music”. Thoughtful use of silence by leaders can create workplaces of harmony.
(By the way, did you realize that the words “SILENT” and “LISTEN” have the same letters?)
Take One Action:
Be silent. When someone speaks, resist the temptation to respond immediately, and take a moment of silence firstly to listen and then to respond, but only if necessary. Notice the response and notice how you feel.
Marguerite Orane is a free and laughing mix of brilliance, passion and purpose. A dynamic and motivating management consultant, facilitator, executive coach and speaker, Marguerite is known for her insights on leadership, strategy, entrepreneurship and personal growth delivered in her own her energetic, joy-filled way – with ease and grace.
A Harvard MBA, she is the author of “Free and Laughing: Spiritual Insights in Everyday Moments” and an avid blogger.
Contact Marguerite at:
Get a free video on how to have joy at work at:
Check out her blog at: