Understand the Silence

Ink and bleach on mixed media paper – Words: Henry David Thoreau

Silence can mean a lot of things. When we do not speak it may mean we are listening intently and do not want to interrupt the speaker. When we are silent it may mean we have nothing to say – nice or otherwise. At these times words cannot express or assist in the situation, so silence is the best course. It’s the old adage your mother told you, “If you do not have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all.” Silence can also mean we are thinking, processing, pondering the information being given and how we need to proceed. Silence may also be a mask for great emotions – fear, anger, love, confusion – and without knowing how to communicate our emotions the best response is silence. And then there is silence so as not to embarrass the person talking. You know they are full “it”, whatever it is, and out of respect which may or may not be deserved, you keep silent.

That is a lot to process when someone is silent. How in the world can we interpret why the other person is not asking? If we try to assume or guess chances are we will be wrong. The best way to find out is to ask them. I know, novel idea to actually ask the person to tell you why they are not speaking. In their response you will have an answer or the answer that makes them most comfortable to present. Just because they are silent it does not mean they are not listening or engaged.

Not everyone processes information in the same manner. Some people need silence to help them gather their thoughts, arrange what they heard to better understand it, and some people have learned not to talk because other people never listen. Some people provide their ideas once they have had time to compile them, which means they sit in silence and think. Once we understand the power in silence we have the ability to change the way we communicate, the way people interact with us, AND how our ideas are moved forward. Allowing people to live in silence gives them time and space to bring their own ideas to the forefront. If all we do is talk, then when do they have time to gather their input?

It takes effort to find out why someone is silent. It takes guts to ask, be respectful of their needs, and it takes will power to stop talking long enough for them to gather their reply. Before proceeding with the idea of why someone is silent, it is better to ask and remove all doubt. My guess is they have great value to add if you only stop talking long enough for them to share their thoughts. Take time to understand the silence, when you do everything will change.

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