You know when you are out with friends and the conversation hits pause? How sometimes you can just enjoy the silence, and how other times it feels a bit uncomfortable, wondering who is going to say something next? Or when you are in a meeting at work, and there’s a silence – often someone jumps in quickly to fill the space?
This got me thinking about the quality and purpose of silence.
Mostly, I’m okay with silence. My own, and others’. I still struggle to silence the voice in my own head sometimes. And don’t get me wrong, I love a lively conversation, loud music, the roar of a crowd at the football. Just not all the time.
My sometimes partner-in-crime, Johnnie Moore, talks about the gift of listening without interrupting. He calls it a gift because it is surprisingly rare and requires generosity from the listener. I’ve noticed how I often jump in with an idea, an opinion, a comment before the person speaking has had time to finish. So I’ve been practicing being silent. And I’ve noticed how different I feel when the person I’m speaking to is silent while I talk.
Just because we all can talk and hear doesn’t mean we know how to converse well. I am increasingly intrigued by the nuances of conversation, especially in light of all the options available today. Is it any wonder that misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and obsfucation abound?
If your group or team struggles to listen when someone else is talking, here’s a simple process that might help. Use a talking stick. A modern-day talking stick is the microphone. Anything will do – as long as it is something that the speaker can easily hold while speaking. The rules are simple. Whoever has the talking stick can talk (for as long as they like) and everyone else listens. When the speaker puts the talking stick down, someone else can pick it up and start talking. That’s it. No interrupting. No asking questions. If you don’t have the talking stick, don’t talk. No need for turn taking, and no need for everyone to speak if they don’t want to. It’s okay for people to speak more than once – as long as they are holding the talking stick. Sit in a circle if you can. Try it for a short time – set an agreed time, maybe 30 or 40 minutes. Next time, try it for longer. See what happens. See if anything changes.