One of my favorite music groups growing up was Simon and Garfunkel. My favorite song from them was the “>Sound of Silence. The opening line “Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again,” is so powerful and has a way of drawing you into the song.
The song at its core is about our inability to emotionally connect with others. When we think of how we connect with others, what often comes to mind is our ability to hold a conversation, our levels of empathy, and engaging body language. I would argue that silence is also vitally important. Indeed, the ability to hold silent is a critical emotional intelligence skill.
We all have a relationship with silence.
Some of us, are comfortable in silence and are able to be alone, not feeling the urge to be distracted. For others, it is less comfortable, and we find an urge to drown out the silence with noise or activity.
Silence also has a place in the conversation. Sometimes, what is needed is a moment of silence to reflect on what was said. Sometimes we can offer the other person the gift of our silence so they have time to think and respond. That ability to sit in silence during a conversation is a struggle for many of us. The temptation is to fill the gap with words when in reality we are filling our discomfort. The cost of this urgency to fill the silence is the potential for a deeper conversation.
One of the greatest gifts we can offer another person is space in a conversation or encounter to allow them to notice what is happening within themselves so they can bring to the surface emotions or thoughts that might otherwise have had no room to be expressed.
We live in a world where the pace of life is chaotic and seems to get quicker day by day. It was interrupted a little by the present pandemic but even now, I am hearing from people that the pace of work from home has turned into endless days of meetings and the feeling of intense pressure to get things done.
It how critical therefore that we develop our ability to hold space for others. It’s the ability to create a space in an encounter where there are no expectations that anything needs to be said. It’s the silent acknowledgment that I am present here for you. It’s a sacred space where silence enables connection.
For this week’s Emotional Intelligence workout, I invite you to reflect on the question, “What is my relationship with silence?” If it is one of discomfort, explore what is at the root of it. I also challenge you to integrate into your day some minutes of silence to build up your comfort level. I also developed a handout on dealing with strong emotions which often requires silence to let them surface within oneself or in other people.