Silence! There’s an elephant in the room.

I have always been uncomfortable with silence. For as long as I can remember, silence has had a negative connotation that has only just began to wear off.

Silence has been criticism. It was what I got when someone didn’t approve of my point of view, my work or my presence. Silence has been disappointment. It reminded me of the shaking head, too disappointed to utter any words. Silence has been malice. That is the ultimate punishment for non-compliance, or the only way to make that critical point. It was evidence an elephant was very much in the room. For me, silence has meant stupidity. It was the response of those who didn’t know the answer or who were out of their depth. I may have been wrong about silence.

Courtesy of a Rand Fishkin presentation (Co-Founder, SEOmoz)

I have often let anxiety set in when silence ensued. I worried about the gap and frequently tried to fill it with words and humour. I worried that the silence signalled disapproval. Silence was very much red. However, I have been learning to embrace silence and not to always interpret it as a bad thing.

As an interviewer, one must use silence to draw more detail from a candidate. Silence can be invaluable in a meeting or negotiation as one observes, listening to all sides of the story and perhaps finally voicing out a relevant suggestion to the situation. Silence can be reflective. Some of the smartest people I know are very quiet and take their time to respond to questions or voice opinions. For many years, I put myself under incredible pressure to speak even when I didn’t feel like or have anything to say. I thought people would think I was stupid for my silence. It is a huge relief to just stay quiet…I learn more that way.

I wouldn’t say my enemy, Silence is now a friend. The anxiety it brought is gone but I occasionally find myself interpreting a person’s silence as disapproval. But I talk myself out of it quickly, aiming not to analyse beyond a few seconds. So although I’m not yet convinced the elephant is completely out of the room nor that silence is always golden, I can perhaps now say that silence has several meanings and can take form in many colours.

Are you comfortable with silence?

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Comments

  1. every time i read i read your blogs, i am amazed at such talent that has been kept away for so long. say less and listen more. thats the golden rule, helps in some many ways.

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  2. Ariel Price says:

    I have always felt the pressure to say something. But it’s not because I’m uncomfortable with silence. If I could I’d always be silent around people I don’t know well, but I know even acquaintances expect me to say something. Talking is what makes me anxious. Even if I want to join in a conversation in class, just raising my hand to say something – knowing I’m going to be the center of attention – makes my heart speed up and I get dizzy. But I know relationships are made when I can step out of my comfort zone and try to get to know someone. So you’re right, I think you just have to find the balance and know when it is appropriate to stay silent and when it is time to speak up.

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  3. For me, it depends on the timing and context of the silence. When I want silence, it is indeed golden tranquility. When someone else is using silence against me, it makes my mouth go dry.

    Great post.

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  4. I have learned to quiet my mind and appreciate silence. However, these moments of peace are few and far between now with two young girls. The silence always ends with the thought: “Hmmmm, things are a bit too quiet…..”.
    Great blog!

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  5. Context is everything: there are comfortable and uncomfortable silences. I love the silence of the house when I’m alone; I don’t need noise, radio, music. I love the silence in the car when my husband and I are out together: we don’t feel the need to fill it.

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  6. Training your mind to meditate in perfect silence is very difficult. You realise that in todays modern world there is so much ambient noise. But when you manage to shut that out too the peace that you can achieve is quite serene. It’s tough to master but great when you can.
    I haven’t achieved it for some years now but I’m thinking of building some quiet time. Thoughtful post, Kemi.

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  7. I love silence when I’m home alone. I absolutely love it and I can think out my ideas. Uncomfortable silence in my specialty as well. I just break the silence and communicate. I think more people need to do so. Love this post

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