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The Beginning of Listening: Silence
by Stephen D. Boyd, PhD, CSP, WCPS
In the word listen are the same letters that make up the word silent. This is a powerful indication that silence is an important part of listening more effectively. If we learn the skill of silence, we also have improved our listening. Let me illustrate that by providing silence-enhancing techniques.
Be the fourth person to speak in a meeting. When in a meeting, don’t be one of the first to give a comment. If you wait to be at least the fourth person to speak, you will have a better understanding of the context of the situation. You can then make better contributions to the issue being discussed. Being silent at first gives you added information. Hearing other people speak gives you a better sense of what to say and when to say it. You receive this benefit when you wait to be the fourth speaker.
Pause before you give feedback. Often, when listening, we can’t wait to speak. Our goal should be instead to pause three seconds before responding. Count mentally “one thousand one,” “One thousand two,” “One thousand three” and then speak. This encourages the other person to give you more and often the best information. It also lets the other person know that what he or she is saying is important to you. Also, if you pause a few seconds, the quality of your feedback will improve because you have had time to give more thought before speaking.
Embrace periods of silence. There are people who can’t stand silence and will talk just to fill the silent times. Going on a long automobile trip with someone who cannot stand silence can make for a very challenging ride. Seek instead to embrace silence; savor it and encourage it among people around you. For example, when you ask a question and no one responds; don’t give your own answer quickly. Wait people out. Let the silence linger. This encourages thinking and pondering and models the skill of silence in listening.
Practice silence on your own by spending 15 minutes a day in private meditation. Personal quiet time reinforces the value of silence. It helps you learn the self-discipline of being quiet instead of talking when in a meeting or having a conversation with a colleague.
A way of showing respect for someone else is to be silent. We have a moment of silence at a public event when a famous person dies. We are silent in a sanctuary of a religious edifice. We are silent at a significant moment such as when the Pope’s death was announced. We also show respect for the person talking by remaining silent—and listening before speaking.
©2012 Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, WCPS
About the Author
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Emeritus Professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with organizations that want to speak and listen more effectively to increase personal and professional performance. He can be reached at (859) 441-4999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.