Saying Less – A Perspective on Silence

For as long as I can remember I would observe people and how we interact with one another. Something I often see in conversation is the talking over each other. When we are not talking over each other we have the constant head nod to show the speaker they have our attention.

With these common actions and known acknowledgment of listening, does this really apply our attention to the speaker? I don’t think it does.

Finding clarity in silence

We know you can’t have a meaningful conversation when we have all the participants talking at the same time (as we often see during work meetings). We often have to struggle to find our turn in the short pauses. When we are able to speak we don’t know if anyone listens.

There are some social conventions that help us jump into conversations such as listening for pauses. Yet we are often faced with people who will continue to talk, even while asking us questions, without letting others respond or offer their thoughts.

I think the notion of silence applies not only to speaking but to how we think during conversations. There are times when I listen to speakers or in conversations and although it appears that I’m listening, my attention may be drawn away.

I find my thoughts are all over the place. I’m thinking of responses, thinking of questions, thinking of other things unrelated to the conversation.

This leads me to think I’m missing out on things being said, or not said. In retrospect, this could have been one of my failures in Pharmacy School; the way I listened or tried to understand what was being explained was wrong or incomplete.

We also have conversations that feel scripted. You speak, then I speak, or we speak to each other as if we are only waiting for the other person to stop speaking so we can take a turn. How do we accomplish anything when we take all this time to not listen? I find myself falling into scripted conversations and try to snap myself out of them when I can.

Silencing the mind

One thing I’m working on is to quiet my mind and apply focus to the speaker. I’m hoping this will let me hear what the speaker is explaining and try to understand their perspective.

We have to find a balance between how much thought we apply to conversations. It would be silly to think that we have to listen without thinking, how else can we process what they are saying?

My focus is on the other mental noise, the thoughts that distract me from the conversation. I find myself spending time listening to what people are saying and at the same time I’m thinking of counter-points or disagreements with what they are saying.

This is causing me to miss other points. It lessens my ability to understand their thoughts as a whole and to not fully understanding the topics discussed.

My objective, as is the core of exploration into self-improvement and growth, is to increase my understanding of the world around me.

To the extent that I can try to understand people without a clouded mind. To listen without forming instant judgments or planning what I will say when it’s my turn.

I can try to learn and hone listening skill that could help and shows we are listening. Such as to state the point of the speaker and ask for confirmation if what we heard and understand is correct. This will also provide time to formulate responses to what we now know we heard correctly.

Final thoughts

We live in interesting times, communication has never been this broad and instant yet our ways of talking to one another isn’t growing or can’t grow at our technological pace. It’s easy to fall into a confirmation bias by searching out and listening to opinions we agree with.

Who wants to feel like their views are wrong? People don’t typically go out looking to prove the views wrong. Yet, how does this help us grow?

My attempt in treating silence as important as speech is in the hope of having meaningful conversations with those I agree and disagree with. I want to change my perspectives or help others change theirs instead of caught in the way we speak to get our opinions out there and ignoring feedback.