During these (hopefully) waning days of COVID and the “promise” of a new year, you may be finding more opportunities to listen to friends, co-workers, or family members share their concerns or fears about the Coronavirus, or the state of our public schools, or Black Lives Matter, or a variety of concerns.
They may need your listening ear more than ever. And one thing you can do to improve your listening is to be silent.
By choosing silence, you will naturally listen more and others have the opportunity to share more—enhancing your relationships. It’s a tool for increased emotional regulation. Silence can be the space between a feeling and a response.
Being silent helps you listen more effectively in two important ways.
First, being silent creates more space for the speaker to talk. Resist the temptation to immediately follow up with a question or comment after they have started talking. Oftentimes they will say the first thing that comes to their mind and your initial silence may encourage them to go deeper without you even asking them to do so.
Let the silence linger a few seconds and see what happens. It may be uncomfortable at first, but with practice, you’ll develop your skill in knowing when it is the right time for you to ask a question or for you to remain silent.
Another value to being silent is that it gives you time to process what you are hearing. You have more time to evaluate not only the speaker’s words, but also their mood, tone, and body language. Maybe there is an emotion that they don’t recognize underneath their words. Or perhaps you notice a tightness in their posture that reveals anger even if they don’t say they are angry.
Finally, being silent gives you more time to think about your follow-up question, reflection, or summary.
For practice, try remaining silent for a few seconds time you are listening. See what happens. Notice how the speaker responds and how you feel. Did it create more space for the speaker even though it might have felt awkward or uncomfortable? Experiment with this and you will see the value of silence.