Practicing Silence

When reflecting on power dynamics last week, one thing that stuck out for me was the power of silence.  I sometimes find myself in situations where people move into group think too quickly and we don’t get to hear the diversity of opinions in the room.  I’ve seen the power of silence to get people centered in their OWN thought/opinion before entering into group discussion.  Turning to your neighbor to discuss before entering the group can have the same impact.

The challenge is that I am a space-filler.  I don’t like awkward silences and I tend to keep talking if no one else steps in right away, sometimes even half-answering my question to others before I give them a chance to speak.  So my practice this week was to give time for reflection and to be comfortable with silence.

This was hard.  I am on a LOT of conference calls (7 in this last week!) and I’m all business – we have a lot to do, we’re all busy, if there’s silence I think of it as wasted time and I just hop in and drive the conversation forward.  There were a few moments of serious antsy-ness, where I decided to sit back and let someone else be first to answer or comment, let someone else volunteer first.  To be honest, I don’t feel that by holding back, I really changed the dynamic in a positive way.  I like that I drive things forward and I think people have come to expect it from me.  Along the lines of the David Kantor framework Eugene mentioned, I have a role that I play in the groups I work with often.  I often see the path or the direction early and I like that I play that role.  This is one of my strengths and it felt awkward to shy away from it.

That said, I can DEFINITELY also see where the role I take on could be unhelpful.  Just because it didn’t happen this week, I’ve caught myself in the past blabbing when I don’t have any special insight to share or adding preamble and context just because a question might be difficult.

Overall, it’s a great thing to be aware of – both as a strength and as something to watch out for.  And given that I know this about myself, it’s good to be intentional about silence, especially when I’m in a group (having patience and giving time for slower cookers to reflect and bring their best without me setting the frame) or one-on-one when I really need to understand or make room for another perspective.

Last, the practice this week made me realize how darn fast I’m trying to move at the moment – efficiency is queen in my world as a new-ish mom with limited time leading a bunch of projects at once.  I couldn’t leave time for silence because I just didn’t have that time!  It would be good for me to keep practicing this and testing that theory… is the way I jump in actually moving things along faster or could another approach achieve the same or better outcomes?

One thought on “Practicing Silence

  1. Avatar photorapetzel

    It’s really interesting for me to read this after a few conference calls we had together this past week.

    Like you, I’m a silence filler. When I’m leading calls I try to leave more space than others are comfortable with because I think it’s quite challenging for many folks to speak up in a conference call environment. This is nerve-wracking as the call convener, and is much more challenging that leaving space in a face-to-face meeting where we can see everyone thinking. Having spent years observing both Kristin and Eugene’s call facilitation, I’ve come to the conclusion I’d rather ere on the side of too much space than always filling it with nervous anticipation of what’s coming next. Those missed opportunities always seemed larger than ones where we let the call hang in silence for five extra seconds.

    That said, for the first time with one of our design team calls last week I was nervous about this silence. It was feeling longer than normal, and I was worried about the energy and engagement of the group. Perhaps this was a result of you shifting your typical role!

    I think this is a great experiment Renee. And while it’s good to know our strengths, it’s also important for any group to be able to shift around its roles and not get stuck. Thanks for sharing your experiment!

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