by Lori Milner: author, entrepreneur, thought leader and founder of Beyond the Dress
In the world of work, we learn to equate silence with doing nothing, and doing nothing is rarely valued as an effective application of professional skill. Since silence is not widely valued, it’s not widely developed. Worse, it’s sometimes knocked out of those to whom it comes naturally. Throughout my career though, I’ve seen that what the very best trainers and coaches have in common is the ability to sit back, observe carefully, and listen intently. Whether applied to yourself or to others, the rare skill of creating and holding silence is worth developing.
In a recent HBR article, David Rock and Josh Davis explain that “aha moments that spark brilliant, unexpected solutions tend to crop up when our minds are quiet.” If neuroscience is now showing the value of silence for delivering creative solutions and for integrating the neural circuits linked to goal focus and social focus, then every organisation that seeks to collaborate and innovate should prioritize the development of this skill.
At another level, silence is a gift, what Alain Cardon refers to as a “luxury service.” The pace of the entrepreneurial and corporate world doesn’t typically allow time for a walk around the park, for introspection, for mind-wandering. Focused, deliberate silence permits us to stop for long enough to remember what’s important—and to prioritize and pursue that. In a world where so many are overwhelmed with everything there is to do, that silent pause is critical for real efficiency.
“If you have a gift with words, learn to keep your mouth shut; when you speak, punctuate with pause; and when you have nothing to say, say nothing.” – Daniel Tenner
4 Examples of when to use silence:
One of the best times to use the power of silence is during an argument is to stay silent. The ego will be trying to force its way out of you and finish the argument but you are the controller, not the ego. When someone is shouting at you, looking for an argument or just picking on you can literally take all the power away from them and keep all your energy by simply looking at them and saying absolutely nothing. This is extremely difficult to do but very powerful.
When someone is talking
Just let people talk and listen to them and use your facial expressions and movements to acknowledge that you are listening. This can be a tough thing to do but silence is an extremely powerful for both you, as the listener, and the talker.
You will find that as you practice this, more people come to talk to you as you will be known as a listener. Obviously there are times to speak during the conversation, however when you do, make sure it is to paraphrase what the talker is saying or asking questions to get more information, don’t make it about yourself.
When people want to know more about you they will ask you questions, this is the time to talk about yourself but always have the listener be part of the conversation.
Tara Brach, psychologist and author, suggests this method - Pause, relax and attend. During your interactions pause repeatedly. Pause briefly before and after you speak. Pause as you are speaking to reconnect with your body and feelings. Pause when another is done speaking, giving some space for what they have said to settle. With each pause relax your body and mind. After pausing you might deepen your attention by using inquiry to check in with your own heart and mind. Ask yourself, “What is true now? What am I feeling?” Deepen your awareness of the other by asking yourself, “What might this person be experiencing?” This inquiry is both active and receptive—you are intentionally asking and investigating, and also opening to whatever is arising. Use pause-relax-attend whenever you remember as a sacred pathway to being present in the moment.
When the house is empty
The silence of the home can be quite disturbing to some people as there is a natural need to fill the void of silence. We turn on the radio, play some music, call friends or family, or turn on the TV to fill this void. Having a completely silent home when you are alone does not mean you are alone it simply means you are recharging your mind and giving it some downtime. Silence helps us to work through, in our minds, the events of the day or project what we want to happen during the day ahead.
This is a fantastic way to connect with the world in a way that is not possible when you are surrounded by constant noise. 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes in the evening simply focusing on your breath can do wonders for both mind and body. I truly believe that with practice, quiet reflection can help us reach a level of deep inner calm. Try it when you’re driving to and from work – just switch off the radio or whatever you’re listening to. Don’t call anyone, just use the time to sit with silence.
“Be the silence that listens.”
Here’s to owning your silence,
LORI MILNER is the engaging facilitator, thought leader and mentor known for her insightful approach to being a modern corporate woman. Her brainchild, the successful initiative Beyond the Dress, is the embodiment of her passion to empower women. Beyond the Dress has worked with South Africa’s leading corporates and empowered hundreds of women with valuable insight on how to bridge the gap between work and personal life. Clients include Siemens, Massmart, Alexander Forbes, Life Healthcare Group, RMB Private Bank and Unilever to name a few. Lori has co-authored Own Your Space: The Toolkit for the Working Woman in conjunction with Nadia Bilchik, CNN Editorial Producer. Own Your Space provides practical tools and insights gleaned from workshops held around the world and from interviews with some of South Africa’s most accomplished women to provide you with tried-and-tested techniques, tips and advice to help you boost your career, enhance your confidence and truly own your space on every level. Own Your Space is the ultimate ‘toolkit’ to unleash your true power. It’s for the woman who wants to take her career to new heights and who is ready to fulfil her true potential.
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