The Sound of Silence
By Renée Gendron
Silence can be an effective tool for both leaders and counsellors
Using silence to create the space for people to participate is an excellent and often underutilized communication tool. Let’s look at two examples to see how silence can be used to increase engagement. Jesse decided to hold a meeting with her team because a project was failing to meet its milestones and corrective action was urgently needed. Jesse asked the group their impressions of the situation. There was an uncomfortable silence, which Jesse did not attempt to fill herself; she gave her team the opportunity to speak first. Marc explained that he had been struggling with getting suppliers to meet their deadlines. And so the conversation continued, solutions presented and considered by numerous team members. Jesse listened attentively but did not dominate the conversation. The team knew they had the space to raise their observations and focused on creating a solution. By not controlling the conversation, Jesse empowered her team.
When Amelia approached Sanjit about a problem she was facing, Sanjit listened carefully but did not offer advice. Instead, he asked pertinent questions and let Amelia think it through. In not forcing a response and not providing an answer, Sanjit created an opportunity for Amelia to think about the problem in a different way. The pause in conversation generated space for Amelia to reflect unhurriedly.
In our two examples, the leader and the counsellor were comfortable with silence. Silence was used as an instrument to generate the time to think and the space to participate, and therefore is also an important tool in a counselling relationship.
Many people, when in conversation, will take it upon themselves to fill the silence with anything, no matter how off subject. When these silences are filled, there is a false urgency in the communication. There is a sense that the participants must hurry and fill in the silence. How can you listen attentively to another when you are too busy formulating a response? How can a counsellor adequately help a client who feels unheard? Moments of silence encourage reflection and active participation for both the client and the counsellor.
An effective counsellor generates opportunities for those they help. One technique to empower your clients is to create a space for them to engage, learn and grow. If the counsellor dictates the conversation and doesn’t let their clients voice their perspective properly, two-way communication is pretty much shut down. In a group setting, you can expand the conversation to include those who would not normally speak, or speak as much, and intentionally not talking is important to make this happen.
Remember, this is not disengagement or punishment. Silence as I have discussed is used to foster curiosity, reflection and application. Sufficient support and guidance were always provided in the two examples above. Silence in this case is not intended to indicate disapproval or social ostracism, but to create a comfortable and open space for people to engage.
By mindfully using silence, counsellors, coaches and advisors can create the time and space needed for reflection. In refraining from responding quickly, silence can be used to empower clients to grow and develop. All of which are the true missions of career development professionals, across all sectors.
Renée Gendron is an engaging speaker, creative mediator, published researcher, and dynamic trainer. Renée supports professionals and organisations to create and thrive. She can be reached on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, her website vitaedynamics.com and by email firstname.lastname@example.org.