Is it time to turn down the volume?

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michelle-gibbingsIn a world full of noise it can be easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that your level of impact equates to how much you talk.

There’s a clear difference between using your voice to stand for something and share your ideas, to talking for the sake of filling space or hearing the sound of your own voice.

It can be likened to the difference between generosity and selfishness. A person who is generous shares their ideas and thoughts and makes space for the words of others. While a person who is selfish focuses purely on what they need from a conversation.

It’s also about getting comfortable with silence and understanding its many uses, as well as its strengths and weaknesses.

It was the great Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said “Silence is a source of great strength.”

Leaders who have presence know the right moment to talk and the right time to hold silence. They recognise that silence is powerful.

For example, a perfectly timed paused can be used to emphasise a point as it gives people time to take in what has been said. You’ll often see speakers use this technique to great effect. They are holding the space and giving the audience time to reflect.

It can also be used to create tension in the conversation, which is particularly effective when negotiating.

Many people are uncomfortable with silence. If there’s a lull in the conversation they think they need to close the gap with a comment or question. By continuing to talk they reduce the impact of their words – eventually talking the offer they proposed down.

On the flip-side, when silence is used with the wrong intent it leads to poor outcomes.

Silence isn’t helpful when it is used as a weapon of anger. For example, when one person stops communicating with another person in a manner that’s commonly known as ‘giving someone the silent treatment.’

This approach doesn’t help build long term, mutually sustaining relationships as it blocks communication.

It’s also not useful if a person feels like they are being silenced. That is, they are being prevented in some way from putting forward their views and feelings.

If staying silent results in you agreeing to things you don’t want to do or don’t believe in it doesn’t make for a happy and fulfilled life.

Similarly, when you stop putting forward your views for fear of recrimination or ridicule it can have a huge impact on your self-esteem and confidence, as you feel disempowered. Neither situation is a good outcome.

So using silence isn’t about not speaking up and turning the volume off. Rather, it’s about being conscious of the most effective way to speak so you are most likely to have a positive impact on those around you.

Change happens. Make it work for you.

by Michelle Gibbings

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