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We live in a loud world.
Every moment of our day is likely filled with some sort of sound — some pleasant, some that fades into the background, and some that assaults our ears like a tone-deaf bagpiper playing “Bad Romance”.
We have control, though. Just as we can choose to fill our bodies with junk food, we can fill our ears with junk sound — turning on the radio or TV to fill the quiet space because that’s what we’ve always done. And the number of potential auditory inputs in the modern world can be staggering. It’s impossible to actually pay attention to all of them.
And that’s my point.
Take this quotation by Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning: “Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lie our freedom and power to choose a response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”
The easiest thing in the world is to fill that space with “noise,” whether generated by ourselves or others. But we give up a lot when we do that. We give up our freedom and our power. That’s a lot to surrender for the sake of speaking quickly to try to make our point.
In a world filled with noise, making the effort to get quiet can be one of the best ways to express yourself and command attention.
To Get Attention, Get Quiet
Let me give you an example. I had a professor in college who would take roll call at the beginning of class. The louder we were, the quieter he was. He was calm. He didn’t fight us for attention. He just stayed focused and thoughtful. He didn’t whisper, but he also didn’t strain to talk over us. And he always got our undivided attention. The quieter he got, the harder we worked to catch every word he said.
He could have yelled at us, slammed his fist on the desk — but he didn’t. And by the time the lecture actually started, we were all ears.
When there is always noise, the easiest thing to ignore is something loud. A quiet voice can be more engaging because we perceive it as more thoughtful.
Being thoughtful and saying less is much more effective than being loud and brash. I used to do media training for the US Air Force. I prepared military officials to speak on camera. One of the hardest habits of theirs to break was answering too quickly.
We’ve been trained to abhor dead air. We believe any silence is an uncomfortable silence. It’s not totally our fault. We’re bombarded by media from all sides, all of it clamoring for our attention. It’s constant and deafening. So, we respond in kind. We feel compelled to fill any void with an “um,” “well,” or some other verbal tick. Or, even worse, we launch into an answer that is not thought out and becomes rambling (at best) or leads to an unflattering sound bite (at worst).
If you master the pause — what Frankl referred to as “the space” — not only will your responses be better, but you’ll also feel more in control. You will give the best answer, not the quick answer, and that really does feel good.
And, if you have the self-control to accept a little silence before speaking, you will come across as more confident. (And, as you know, nothing is sexier than confidence.)
Actors, orators, musicians and comedians know the value of timing. In fact, you could make the argument that the pause is just as, if not more important, than the sound. That’s where the individual expression comes from. And while you might not have designs on debuting at The Improv, learning from the masters of timing can improve your relationships and lead to success in business and family affairs.
How Patient Can You Be?
Author and psychologist Alex Lickerman tells a story of a class he took in his residency. His professor asked a question that no one had an answer to. The professor waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, a student proffered an answer and a lively discussion followed. After class, Lickerman asked the professor how he could stand such a long period of silence. The professor pointed out that it had been a mere thirty seconds.
That’s not long at all, though to the students it felt like an eternity. But it gave them the space to create a dialogue. That would not have happened if the professor had jumped in to fill the void.
Let’s face it. We all like to be heard. So much so that a lot of times our need to speak our piece interferes with our ability to not only listen to, but truly understand others. When someone expresses themselves, even if it is just a simple sentiment, there is a lot to their communication — the words, the tone, the rhythm of their speech, their facial expressions and body language. If you are simply poised to launch into your response rather than observing the other person, you will miss all that.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This can change the entire conversation for the better.
Tips on How to Get Quiet
Try this experiment. See how long you can stay quiet and also be in quiet. No music. No TV. Don’t talk to yourself. No sounds other than what naturally occurs in your setting. Set a timer right now and give it a go. (Yes, that’s right — do it right now.)
Was it hard? Was it refreshing? Maybe a little of both? How does it feel? How long did it feel? What sensations came up?
Take this challenge: commit to a period of silence every day. You don’t have to meditate or “do” anything. Just turn off all the sound you can control and be quiet. Start with ten minutes, five minutes, or one minute — whatever is doable for you. Once you get comfortable with that length of silence, go a little longer. Then a little longer.
After that, start pausing in conversation. Start with a three count. Then a five count. See if you can work your way up to a thirty-second pause like the college professor. It may not be practical in an everyday conversation, but the keys to success in any crucial conversation are hearing, understanding, and responding.
The Conclusion on Why We Need to Get Quiet
When you feel the world around you get louder and more out of control, use this strategy: get quiet. Those demanding an immediate response will grow uncomfortable and those seeking your truth and wisdom will feel comfort.
Don’t always try to fill the quiet space — because, in truth, the space does not need to be filled. The space is where we find freedom, growth, and happiness.
So, get quiet every day. Just for a little bit.