Call them “ice breakers”. Call them filler for an uncomfortable silence. Call them silly….OK, call them stupid.
He: “What does BRB mean?”
She: “Be Right Back”
He: “OK, I’ll wait”
Patron to the bartender-
“I can’t taste the vodka in this drink..”
(Bartender) “Well, maybe you’re an alcoholic. No bartender pours less than an ounce an a half of alcohol in a drink. So, you might want to order a double next time.”
“I have this, like, sixth sense where I can smell if someone has a cavity.”
So, I suppose that there’s something to be said for the proverbial adage “Silence is Golden.”
Whether it’s leading a team, interviewing for a job or in negotiating a deal, Silence is POWER.
Credit: Dr. Alex Lickerman article “The Effective Use of Silence” in Psychology Today (December 11, 2009)
With the caveat that power can always be abused, the effective use of silence can bestow many gifts, chief among them:
- The ability to listen effectively. Few do it well. Most of us engage in listening only as a way of waiting until it’s our turn to speak. If you can’t resist thinking about what you want to say when listening, focus instead specifically on being silent. You’ll be surprised how much your ability to concentrate will improve. And if you can stop focusing on what you want to say when listening (don’t worry; it won’t go anywhere you can’t find it) and instead concentrate entirely on what’s being said to you, then silence won’t just bring you a new skill; it will bring you new knowledge. Remember that listening is far more powerful than speaking. You learn nothing by saying something (which by definition you already know). Besides, how often are we really able to influence another’s behavior or beliefs by what we say?
- A clear view into the hearts of others. Silence gets you out of the way and creates a space others will fill in with themselves. A person’s personality becomes apparent in mere hours to days. Assessing a person’s character, on the other hand, takes months to years. But people remain themselves at every moment. An offhand comment made when you first meet someone may, in retrospect, be obviously representative of a large character defect (or virtue). If you employ silence to listen carefully to not only what people say but how they say it, you’ll find they’ll give themselves away to you constantly and enable you to understand their character far sooner than you would be able to otherwise. Having had years of practice interacting with and observing nuances in our fellow human beings’ expression and tone has made our intuition far more accurate than we often believe. It only requires your silence to give full play to its power.
- Attractiveness. People want more than anything to be heard and understood and will find anyone who provides them that feeling powerfully charismatic.
- Self-control. Think how much more in control you’d not only appear but actually be if your first response upon hearing or seeing something that sparks a strong reaction in you wasn’t to lash out emotionally but instead to become–silent. Silence is a terrific substitute for self-control, not only creating its appearance, but over time and with practice its substance as well.
- Wisdom. When facing a new challenge, making silence your first response gives you a chance to reflect before you speak, increasing the likelihood that what you say and do will be on target, intelligent, and useful. Further, silent reflection promotes the appropriate use of what we call in medicine a “tincture of time.” If you resist the urge to leap into action at the first moment a problem arises, the problem often fixes itself. In medicine, as in life, sometimes the wisest action is none at all.
Prior to that conversation during my residency, I’d only thought about silence as something to be enjoyed in solitude and avoided in the presence of others. Now I think about it as a tool I can use to make myself more effective at my job and more understanding of others, and thereby more compassionate, wiser, and happier. Just think how the world would be different if we all spent more time listening. At the very least, it would be a whole lot quieter.
If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to explore Dr. Lickerman’s home page, Happiness in this World.