Have you ever experienced a time when you’ve been thinking about a friend, and then they call you “out of the blue?” Perhaps you find yourself somewhere you’ve never been before and realize that this location has been presented multiple times (e.g. you overheard it described; your best friend mentioned it; or perhaps you had a very detailed dream about it).
These types of experiences are what Carl Jung labelled synchronicities, “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.”
I’ve experienced a synchronicity of silence the past few weeks. I’ve heard presenters on two different webinars discuss the importance of silence, (one on coaching, another on creativity). Two new books I’ve read, on neuroscience and resilience also reference the importance of silence.
Why was I running across so many references to silence? Was there something I needed to learn about silence? As an introvert, I happen to believe I’m somewhat of an expert on silence. I prefer silence to speaking most of the time.
What was the pattern I was observing? Silence was referenced in conjunction with communication. Wait! Isn’t communication when you talk? Yes and no. We communicate on many levels and through multiple processes, the words we use are a miniscule part of any message.
Our overall body language, how we hold our body, our movement through space, facial expressions, our gaze, hand gestures, vocal tones, pitch, rate of speech, and more all contribute to our message. We can recognize a dear friend or family member from a distance long before we can see their face or hear their voice.
Why is it then that when we think of communication, we automatically think of talking and what we want to say? Perhaps because we’ve forgotten about the power of silence in our world of rapid fire sound bites, and information overload.
We may assume that when someone is silent, they don’t have anything of value to contribute, or they can’t find the words, so we jump in to offer what we assume they intend to say or provide the answer to the question they haven’t yet asked.
Yet silence is a potent aid in communication. Most people talk for about 2-3 minutes before pausing (some people longer). A typical rate of speech is roughly 150-200 words per minute. We can hear faster (about 400 words per minute) than we can talk, so most people are busy following their monkey mind thoughts while “listening.”
Because our brains are so busy, in any two-minute communication, the listener may hear and remember 1/40th of the message. A noisy environment, harsh lighting conditions, physical discomfort, proximity to screens, their own internal dialogue, all contribute to the estimate that a listener will hear and recall only 4-7 words.
I’m learning (again) that brevity and silence are two of the most powerful tools in communication. In our quest to “fully” communicate, we tend to provide too much information, overwhelming the listener with irrelevant data, stories, context and our random thoughts. When we are nervous or uncomfortable, we tend to continue talking, to fill the silence.
What would happen if when we communicated, we focused more on the listener and less on the message? What would happen if we slowed down, paused more, and provided less “filler” language, especially when the communication is important?
What if we allowed silence to be one of our communication tools? The silence of patiently waiting for the other person to process the content we just provided. And the silence of listening fully to their response without working out our rebuttal.
In our rapid paced world in which we are bombarded with content from multiple sources, we may have lost some of the understanding that becomes evident through silence.
The silence of a gaze toward a loved one. The awed silence of observing a color-riot sunset. The silence of a quiet mind. The silence of listening with the intent of understanding and connecting.