I still remember my very first example of just staying quiet. We were at the cottage as children and my Grandfather said something boring and of little importance to my Grandmother. She simply nodded then continued what she was doing. That small act blew my small mind. For some reason I had always been under the impression that you must respond verbally in some way to every single thing anyone ever says. Granted kid logic isn’t always the best but this small event made a huge difference in my life.
At the time it was just a lesson that you don’t always have to think of something witty or engaging to say. Sometimes you can acknowledge someone with a smile, a nod or even a shrug.
Years later I landed my first big kid job out of university. I was working a sales job on 100% commission. So you had to learn fast or you made no money. So during our extensive training, one of the things that was discussed at length and that we had to practice was learning when to stay quiet. As an awkward introvert I was in my zone! What they taught us (and what most good sales managers will teach their teams) Is that especially during negotiations you sit and wait for them to speak first. When it comes to negotiations more often than not people will talk themselves into your proposition. People find silence awkward and will want to fill it. If you are in a fact finding discussion ask a question and stay quiet, while trying to avoid silence people will tell you much more than you would think.
Now the trick is to not just sit in a room and stare at someone for an hour after you ask a question. It takes some practice to notice when you’ve exhausted your silent streak and it is time to respond appropriately. You must also remember to show you are listening in other ways. Body language, like leaning forward, nodding or facial expressions and even taking notes are good places to start.
Now these lessons are not just good for a business or sales setting. Understanding how and when to stay quiet can greatly benefit you in social situations as well. People enjoy talking about themselves and it has been proven that people feel more connected to good listeners. Ask someone a question, sit back, stay quiet and actually listen to what they have to say. When they pause (to either take a sip or breathe) don’t immediately interject with a story or critique. Wait. Give them a second and chances are they will start talking again. Now you might say “but come one how else will conversations flow?!”. Well unless you’re in a rush they will flow. By giving someone a bit more time to express themselves you can grow your bond, help them to feel more comfortable and improve your listening skills.
The power of quiet is also important in your private life. In a world where noise and distraction surrounds us we often forget the beauty of quiet. Think about it for a minute. When was the last time you just sat in total silence? No music playing, no TV shows on in the background, just you, your brain and quiet. We always feel the need to fill the quiet with something but why? What is wrong with just sitting, not saying anything, not listening to anything but just enjoying the calm and silence.
By learning to not only appreciate those moments of silence it is also important to seek them out. A park bench for a 5 minute breather during a busy day makes a world of difference. Sitting in a comfy armchair after dinner enjoying the feeling of fullness helps you appreciate what you have. Embracing these moments has greatly helped me to feel more content and satisfied with my day.
Even when you are not alone you can still enjoy these moments. Sometimes there is nothing that needs to be said between 2 or 3 people. Take a minute or two, enjoy being with them and being quiet with them. You shouldn’t have to feel that it is your responsibility to fill every moment. Conversations will start on their own. If you are worried about your companions feeling awkward, well… don’t. If your body language suggest that you are calm and at ease then their feelings will start to reflect that. Having quiet time with those you care about is a lovely and powerful thing. Embrace it.
So from one small example set by my Grandmother almost 20 years ago I have learned that silence and quiet are healthy and helpful to many aspects of life.