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What words come to mind to describe silence? “Awkward,” “uncomfortable,” or maybe “dead?”

Silence does not need to be negative. In fact, silence can be good and is a necessary part of the conversation – even for online discussions. Our SCN discussion forum moderators are especially good at standing back, and giving others a chance to answer questions and share their expertise.

Whether demonstrated by an intentional pause or peaceful reflection, silence communicates. 

It communicates:

  • Listening – Rather than being the speaker, choose to adopt a stance of listener – after all, it is the other important half of communication. (See Between You and Me: Think-Blog-Think)
  • Contemplation – Introverts need more time to consider and verbalize their thoughts. Show that you understand by not interrupting. (See Introverts and Extroverts – Who Cares?)
  • Respect – Show others you respect their expertise, and are authentically curious about what they have to say.
  • Empathy – Many times the response from your body language is louder and more appropriate than any words you can use.
  • Importance – Let the importance of what you have to say sink-in, by pausing and then checking in.
  • Control – You are really in control of your communication. You can choose not to interrupt or to use silence to draw out a response. (See Coaching for Leadership)

Silence is a good thing.  There is no need to fill it with words.

Here’s a gem I found from one of my favourite 80’s bands (Depeche Mode):

“Enjoy The Silence” by Martin Gore

Words like violence

Break the silence

Come crashing in

Into my little world

Painful to me

Pierce right through me

Can’t you understand

Oh my little girl

All I ever wanted

All I ever needed

Is here in my arms

Words are very unnecessary

They can only do harm

Vows are spoken

To be broken

Feelings are intense

Words are trivial

Pleasures remain

So does the pain

Words are meaningless

And forgettable

All I ever wanted

All I ever needed

Is here in my arms

Words are very unnecessary

They can only do harm

…Now that you’ve taken a silent moment to consider some of these points ๐Ÿ™‚ , how might the use of silence impact your work?

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26 Comments

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  1. Susan Keohan

    Hi Jason,

    As someone who always has something to say – and sometimes even useful stuff! – silences used to make me very uncomfortable.   I am learning how to like the sounds of silence.

    Yours,

    S&G (way before yours or Jamie’s times)

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    1. Jason Cao Post author

      Thanks for sharing this Sue! S&G might be before my time – good thing YouTube allows James Oswald and me to share in some of their wisdom. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Regards,
      Jason

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    1. Jason Cao Post author

      Hi Tim, I agree that non-verbal communication is so important and sometimes challenging in the digital world. Thanks goodness for in-person events like SAPPHIRENOW, SAP TechEd, SAP Inside Track, meetups, and my favorite – User Group meetings. Oh yah, let’s not forget emoticons! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Cheers,
      Jason

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  2. Michael Mankowski

    In some cases, the adage from Mark Twain could be relevant -> “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”  ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Former Member

    Nice post Jason. Thanks! Silence is a good thing most of the time…as long as it isn’t used in a passive-aggressive way (ie, not speaking up when appropriate, but instead, talking behind someone’s back or after the fact). In that case, it can be toxic.

    Here is another great song about silence. An oldie but goodie.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvsX03LOMhI

    BTW, since you also seem to be interested in the topic of introverts vs. extroverts, in case you haven’t seen Jonathan Becher’s recent blog post, you might want to check it out. It’s called: Introverts Are More Detailed Than Extroverts.

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    1. Jason Cao Post author

      Hi Julie,

      Thanks for reading the post and for raising this important point. There is a ‘dark side’ to silence – its use to manipulate others in negotiations or in showing anger.

      I’m sure there are folks who use silence as a tactic to avoid difficult conversations, to avoid responsibility, and to not answered direct questions. By doing this, I believe they are really doing themselves and their team a disservice. Managers should be open, honest and diplomatic with their communication to build trust and to keep their teams informed. At the same time, team members should also listen, and hold their managers accountable to their responsibilities and behaviours.

      This is the second time S&G’s song came up (Sue mentioned it earlier) – time to re-aquaint myself with these songs on my drive home tonight.

      Thanks for the link back to Jonathan’s blog – it was really informative. I also posted a comment to his blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Regards,

      Jason

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  4. Kumar Akshat

    “Silence is the canvas on which sounds are painted”

    Once upon a time, Silence and Sound were walking in a garden. Sound, which had manifested itself in the chirping of birds, the laughter of kids, the rustle of leaves, asked Silence “Don’t you love all those sounds? How can you distance yourself from something so beautiful?” Silence smiled and broke its silence just to make its point “I am silent because I listen to those beautiful sounds more than anybody else.”

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  5. Former Member

    Hi Jason,

    After reading your post “Our SAP Design Thinking journey with Science World” I got here to find yet another awesome post ๐Ÿ™‚

    Respect – Show others you respect their expertise, and are authentically curious about what they have to say.

    Personal experience(when I needed silence): I am pretty new to SAP and when I get to say something most of the time I will be waiting for a moment of silence from others. A moment of silence really shows you value what the other has to say.

    Now as I know about both the positive and negative effects of silence from your post and viewers comments, I will be a silent listener when the need arises.

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    1. Jason Cao Post author

      Hi (again) Kannan,

      Thanks for your feedback! Silence, if used effectively, can accomplish great things. I’m glad to hear you are reflecting on these points and have set a goal for yourself to apply silence in the right circumstances.

      Regards,
      Jason

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