How to Take the Awkward out of the Silence

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Just for fun, here’s a two-question music history pop quiz for you:


Q1. On December 4, 1965, what song hit #1 on the US Billboard Top 100 charts?

(Hint: It was sung by the group The Byrds.)


A1. The hint may have helped – does anyone remember anything else The Byrds sang? – but the answer is “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)”.


Now, while the original version of the song was written by Pete Seeger in 1959 and several other artists recorded their own renditions of it in the early ‘60s before The Byrds topped the charts with it, this brings us to question #2:


Q2. What was the original source of the lyrics?

Memory jog: The song begins:

            To everything (turn, turn, turn)

            There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

             And a time to every purpose, under heaven…


A2. It may surprise you to know that the entire song is taken nearly verbatim from the book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-8) in the Bible.


It discusses how, in life, there is a time for everything: for sowing and for reaping, for crying and for laughing, for war and for peace, etc.


But the line that sticks out to me is “a time to keep silent, and a time to speak.”


It’s amazing how the simplest concept in the entire song, silence, is so elusive for most of us in today’s over-scheduled, hyper-stimulated, constantly-plugged-in, FOMO culture.


Yet whether we self-identify as more extroverted or introverted, when we do experience silence, we often find it to be awkward or uncomfortable, so we do everything possible to FILL it! Errands, activities, Netflix, phone calls, chores… anything to avoid being left alone with nothing but our thoughts.


And we often do it to our kids too – filling every waking moment with activities, gadgets and more, even chastising them if we see them sitting there “doing nothing.” Then we lament that they’re stressed out as teens and into adulthood. (It reminds me of another iconic folk tune by Harry Chapin, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” A beautiful wake-up call… but I digress…)


But the truth is that we NEED silence, even momentary silence, from time to time, to be able to frame and articulate our thoughts, feelings, wants and needs clearly and accurately when we do choose to speak.


The GOOD news is that there is a way – many, actually – to make time for and peace with ourselves, and our thoughts, in that silence.


That’s exactly what we explore in this week’s episode of the Speaking to Influence podcast takes an unique twist, exploring the role of SILENCE as an essential communication skill.


Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz, authors of the brand-new book “Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise,” (and consultants for little organizations you may have heard of like NASA and the US Congress) join me to demystify the importance of embracing silence for physical and mental wellness, and how to create a culture that values quiet time in the workplace.


We explored a range of topics such as:


  • how to overcome the fear of silence – like when you’re in a meeting and someone asks a question but nobody jumps in to answer
  • how to set time for silence and honor that time, such as by making an appointment with yourself and treating it as an important meeting
  • how to create micro-spaces for silence in the workplace, with family and friends in an age of constant chatter and the noise of social media


and more.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on Youtube here.



In the past I have also addressed the importance of silent “thinking time” (which, I confess, I still don’t make nearly as much time for as I should), as crucial for making good business decisions.


One of my favorite resources for what to think about when I do actually honor those weekly time blocks, is The Road Less Stupid by Keith Cunningham.


Simply put, the underlying premise is that most of the biggest mistakes we make in business (and in life) are made because we didn’t ask high-quality questions to derive high-quality, well-thought-out decisions.


The Road Less Stupid helps us to figure out what questions we should be asking to make better decisions.


But here’s the kicker: once you pick the question, you have to set aside a block of thinking time, IN SILENCE, to allow yourself to think it through!


Look, if Mahatma Gandhi could commit to taking EVERY MONDAY, IN ITS ENTIRETY, to silence – even though he still took meetings, just to listen – then you and I can commit small blocks of time each week to thinking, or at least breathing, in silence.


In the podcast, Justin and Leah share ways to start at the micro-level. This includes simple steps such as making the conscious choice to breathe for five seconds before entering a meeting or joining a call.


Here’s the nutshell version: As the saying goes, “measure twice, cut once.”


In other words: Pause to think in silence → clearer/better ideas → fewer mistakes in communication and execution → less stress/more success!


Let’s start the journey by celebrating a win: Congratulations for allowing yourself a few moments in silence to read this message!


Now anchor it by closing your eyes for just 10-15 seconds, breathing deeply, and allowing yourself to reflect on what thoughts, ideas, emotions, experiences, arise for you as you sit with what you’ve just read. Then start the rest of your day!


(I’d love to hear what answers you come up with, so please share them with me!)

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