The Power of Silence

Following on from my previous blog on How to Talk to Anyone and Start a Conversation, I thought it would be relevant to discuss the Power of Silence.
Silence is very much like the ugly sister in the house of communication, misunderstood and underrated. Many people are uncomfortable with silence and view it as hostile and unpleasant. In the words of Charles de Gaulle “silence is the ultimate weapon of power” and maybe this is what disconcerts people. Or perhaps we are so used to being surrounded by noise like TV, cars, phones etc that we are just not accustomed to silence.
So how can silence be used in communication? Silence has many functions; it forces people to think, act, gather their thoughts and emphasise a point. Our thoughts may seem loud in our minds (it’s those voices again!) yet we can control when and how to verbalise them.

7 Examples of when to use silence

1 – When you have nothing to say Admittedly this is like saying that water is wet, yet it is an important point to make. If you are uncomfortable with silence and fill it by talking and saying nothing you may come across as fake and the conversation may seem forced. Mindless chatter can be annoying. You don’t want to be known as the person who loves the sound of their own voice. It is often said that silence can speak the loudest.

2 – During an argument Don’t let your ego get in the way. Remember you are in control. If someone is shouting at you or picking a fight, you can regain power by saying absolutely nothing. This is not an easy thing to do as it requires a huge amount of self control and discipline. It is worth it though, as it will put you in the driver’s seat and diffuse a difficult situation. It also allows you to think about what you want to say rather than just blurting something out when you are angry which you may later come to regret.

3 – Talking to people Many times people just need someone to listen. Make sure your facial expressions show that you are actively listening and paying attention. There will be times when it will be right to say something whether to paraphrase or ask more questions. Just ensure it doesn’t become about you and your genda. How many times have you been in a conversation when you are talking about something that happened to you and the other person says something like “when that happened to me…bla bla bla”. Don’t become that person. Be sensitive to other peoples needs and listen.

4 – Meetings I am all for self promotion yet at meetings this can become an exercise in who talks the loudest. Many forget that “silence is one of the great arts of conversation”. (Marcus Tulius Cicero). If you listen you can absorb all that is being said around you and therefore achieve maximum impact when you do offer your opinion.

5 – Negotiations Silence is a secret weapon of powerful negotiators. If you listen you will gain people’s trust and understand their needs and wants. Remain silent long enough to really listen not just hear what is being said. It is often said that in a negotiation whoever speaks first after an offer is on the table loses. After the proposal is made have the courage to zip it. Remember the 10 second rule. Try this next time, after someone says “that’s my offer” don’t say a word for 10 seconds. It is almost guaranteed the other person will jump in! The silence will be heavy and can be nerve-wracking yet it is crucial to establish your position and gain control of the negotiation

4 – Questions It may seem strange but asking questions is an excellent way to learn silence. This is another great tool in negotiations as the person asking the questions controls the conversation. I read somewhere that lawyers are taught never to ask a question they don’t already know the answer to, so do your homework. The flip side of this is that if someone asks you a question there is no law saying you have to answer. Just be careful not to come across as rude or arrogant! You can always throw it back and say “that is an interesting question, why do you ask?” Only ask questions if you are prepared to actively listen to the response and beware of asking questions you don’t really want to know the answer to…Questioning also buys you time to ensure that your brain is fully engaged before you speak.

7 – Recharging Silence can help you focus and go through the events of the day and planning for tomorrow. It can also serve as a catalyst to think about what you want and how you are going to get it. Some find that meditation is also useful. Focusing on nothing other than breathing for example can work wonders on the body and mind and feel like pure bliss. For others, trying to free their minds of any clutter and think of nothing is meaningless as they stress about the fact that thinking about nothing is in fact thinking of something! Whatever your chosen method this is an opportunity for some “me” time.

Culture plays an important role in our tendency to immediately jump in when there is a lull in the conversation. There will be times when your silence may be misinterpreted. Some may see it as an opportunity to jump in, others as a sign of weakness, it may intimidate a few and others may just think you are a little dull. There is no magical formula for when to speak up or when to keep quiet. The art of silence is learned…

Just for fun – what are your thoughts on the following scene with Mia and Vince in Pulp Fiction? Is it indeed an “Uncomfortable Silence”?

It is my turn to listen and for you to break the silence and share how you feel about and use silence in different situations. I look forward to hearing and listening to your thoughts!

If you are having difficulty watching this video on here you can view it directly on YouTube.


Photos provided by Flickr users: nicolasnova, Desirée Delgado, nouQraz, GViciano, mnadi, silkeqb, elycefeliz, Mr Huevo

70 Responses to “The Power of Silence”

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    • Ana says:

      Many thanks for your comments. What sort of visual materials did you have in mind? I am always open to suggestions! So you like the images and YouTube video on here?

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  8. Rob Rasner says:

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    • Ana says:

      Hi Rob.
      Thank you for your kind remarks. I am really pleased you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to sign up to the RSS feed or email updates to get notified of new entries. If there is anything you would like to read about please let me know.

  9. arun kamath says:

    Wonderful writing. I have read somewhere that even while talking, pausing before the important words helps in effective conversation.

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