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Silence may be golden, but it’s also awkward. In our noisy world, long quiet pauses prompt many of us to jump in and fill the void.
Awkward silence is a real issue for people.
When you’re face-to-face with another person or with a group of people, you face what Nietzsche called the horror of the vacuum of space with nothing to say.
A pristine forest doesn’t count as anything for GDP, unless you chop it down and sell the wood for lumber at Home Depot. You can say the same thing about human attention.
Moments of quiet, pristine awareness, such as a walk in the woods or time with your kids making or appreciating art doesn’t count as a positive for GDP. Our society and our communal lives are wired for as much noise as possible.
We as a society have used silence and honoured silence in ceremonies, milestones, and cultural events. We want to welcome that back into the foreground of our way of being together.
Ironically, finding comfort with silence in the workplace starts with more conversation.
Ma means empty, negative space.
Ma also means pure potentiality. On the job, that would mean having reverence for open spaces, honouring them and building them in.
Ma can be physical, such as having empty spaces in buildings that provide a sense of calm and clarity. And Ma can mean adding space into your day, such as leaving free time between meetings instead of scheduling things back-to-back. Or it can be blocking off time for deep, thoughtful work.
While brainstorming sessions are usually filled with noise, they also offer a perfect opportunity to introduce silence. We could add a minute or two of quiet during the meeting, allowing employees to think before sharing ideas.
Or create a silent brainstorming session with a Post-it note gallery where people write down their ideas and post them on a wall. Then, participants can slowly peruse ideas and vote for the best one.
Silent brainstorming sessions offer new opportunities for intelligence to arrive or be uncovered, which can be especially beneficial to employees who are more introverted.
Silence is also a force that can equilibrate anger or tension at work. If people are getting agitated during a meeting, the authors suggest asking for a period of collective silence. The silent pause can help people centre and calm themselves before proceeding.
Silence isn’t forcing a resolution before the group is ready. It’s simply ensuring that people are present and listening. The group silence forces everyone into a place where they have to drop their verbalized positions and arguments and connect to the underlying energy of the shared space.
Whether it’s during a meeting, a disagreement, or a deep work session, sitting in silence can take courage because it’s uncomfortable.
We need to be able to be quiet together. The experience and power of silence is magnified when it’s shared.
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