What do you say when you have nothing to say? I have been pondering this week’s blog for some time now because I felt like I had nothing to say. And then it hit me! Silence! Ironically, silence is an important art in conversation and communication and, as with most quality art, most of us are not very good at it.
For one thing silence is awkward. Have you ever walked up to someone you haven’t spoken to in some time and after the required, “Hi” and “How are you?”, there is silence. Time and distance has created a void defined by silence. At this point I blather on about some inane, non-relevant thing that no one really cares about but it fills the dreaded quiet.
I feel responsible for correcting silence. No one is talking. Yikes! Let me don the jester’s hat and start to entertain. I am desperately trying to cure myself of that sense of duty. After all, isn’t conversation a shared endeavour, a balance between all parties? When one joins a conversation, there is an implied obligation to contribute. First, one should contribute in a meaningful, respectful way. We should be conscious of one another and make sure that we are neither monopolizing the airtime nor sitting back an aloof observer who could be perceived as judgmental or dull.
I like that idea of a Talking Stick. The person with the Talking Stick is the person who speaks. And, don’t hog the Talking Stick? Some people are very artful conversationalist. They know when to talk and when to listen and also, how to get others to join in.
Practicing silence during a conversation enables you to practice listening. Silence does not mean listening. You could be daydreaming. I read once that a person thinks about sex every seven minutes…I digress. Listening involves being interactive with the person speaking not just preparing for the pause that you can jump in and speak again. Some people don’t wait. They start talking right over the initial speaker. At that point I usually stop talking but lately, as an experiment, I just keep on talking to see how long the conversational duet lasts.
I have seen situations where the conversation fell just short of being a contact sport. In some circles one must steel themselves for the sparring for audio space, filling your lungs to capacity and entering the ring with determination and vigor. Don’t pause or you will find yourself on the mat.
Guilty of being a long talker, I have put myself in conversational rehab observing the best and trying to emulate their refined art of conversation. The bottom line is our reputations include the kind of conversationalist we are. (A hint is people tend to go down the other aisle in the grocery store when they see you.)
Silence should be easy but it seems to take a lot of effort. Which brings me to the value of silence as a learning tool. I don’t learn much when I am talking. Chances are though there’s opportunity to learn when I am listening. In other words, silence opens us up to hearing others and, sometimes, we have to wait quite a while for some to speak. The quiet ones are often the ones who have the most valuable things to say because they have been doing most of the thinking while we were talking.
Good relationships depend on good conversation of which silence is an important element. The best relationships can sit in silence and know it is ok.
By Dawn Anita Mann