When was the last time you indulged in a moment of pure silence? On your own in the shower or out for a run? Everything paused; the to-do list, "should have done" and "must dos" faded into the background. Your internal chatter diminished and waves of silence washed over you uninterrupted by mobile phone notifications, nagging thoughts or any other typical incessant background noise of 21st century living.
Our daily lives are an endless cacophony of sound as noise assaults our senses. Cities are full of the ever-present hum of background traffic, screaming children, ringing phones, the latest episode of “The Great British Bake-Off” blaring through from your neighbours’ apartment. Adriana, creator of the “Huffington Post” and “Thrive” believes "we’re wired, plugged in, constantly catered to, and increasingly terrified of silence, unaware of what it has to offer" (Huffington, 2014, p.188). We’ve become accustomed to clatter and find a strange comfort or I’d suggest distraction from ourselves in the sounds tugging at our attention.
The flow of our everyday conversation perpetuates this din through a permanent flow of words. Our constant transmission overlooks the prime motivator behind verbal interactions – to exchange ideas, share information and seek to understand. Western culture reinforces this phenomenon as silence is generally associated with negative values, beliefs or assumptions. Silence correlates to a stereotypical lack of interest, unwillingness to communicate, rejection, interpersonal incompatibility, shyness (Davidson, 2009) or insufficient knowledge. These perceptions combined with our noisy world mean it’s almost impossible to hunt out a moment of peace and quiet. The deeper role of silence as a means of communication has largely been ignored (ibid.) and definitely warrants consideration in coaching and everyday conversations.
Additionally, patterns of dialogue vary across the world and the Western cultures specialise in a form of verbal tennis. Words morph into tennis balls; batted backwards and forwards across a net with a chronic failure to notice or register the actual word, hidden meanings, veiled emotions or insinuations. This links back to the classic 1960s song “The Sound of Silence” where Garfunkel describes the lyrics deeper meaning to illustrate "the inability of people to communicate with each other, not particularly intentionally but especially emotionally” (Eliot, 2010). The deeper value, connection and understanding is concealed within the noise and found in the spaces between words, brief sentence gaps and pauses in-between. The Sound of Silence.
Within the professional coaching realm, the International Coach Federation core competencies are a practical framework to consider skills, knowledge and ethics. Many key competencies can be transposed across into the business world and everyday life to support the highly sort-after talent of “effective communication” or “active listening”. Silence underpins these skills to provide a moment in time to reflect, connect and provide balance to the words. Mocci and Penna elaborate further that “silence is used to underline, to increase the communicative value, both in a positive or negative sense, of a content already defined by the relationship, for instance affection, friendship, feeling of dissatisfaction, that silence shapes”. (2009, p.5). A coach (or indeed considerate conversationalist!) creates sufficient space for equal or more communication time (International Coach Federation, 2012). This incorporation of silence into conversations can initially feel disjointed, uncomfortable and alien; as one of my recent coaching clients explains further:
“The silence and space given to me, as the client, to do the heavy lifting was uncomfortable for me at first. However, that is where the meaningful and life changing awareness sprung forth. I felt supported and believed in all along the way which empowered me”.
Brenda, Charity Sector
Grant yourself the luxury of silence to still your mind and open your ears. Welcome this time and space into your day and give your small, still voice hidden deep inside permission to vocalise their thoughts.
Gift your conversational partner a moment to simply finish their sentence. Simply hold the space and allow the opportunity for further reflection or consideration. Enjoy the moment and avoid the temptation to prematurely jump in to fill the gap.
Embrace the Sound of Silence.