‘So much more was said in the unsaid.’ (Bridget Devoue)
Silence: a powerful rhetorical device, used by speakers and musicians to evoke resounding emotional impact. Silence leaves the audience…waiting…in...anticipation and ‘the sound of silence can be the most deafening sound of all’ (Toth). Silence is an important presencing tool in coaching and therapy too: an inviting silence that signals attentiveness; a space to feel deep and think hard; a willingness to listen and to hear. Silence interrupts and creates a...pause. It’s the silent space between notes that makes music possible.
These kinds of silence are so very different to the deadly silence of…intimidation. ‘The predator wants your silence. It feeds their power, entitlement, and they want it to feed your shame’ (Davis). This is the act, the feeling of being, becoming, done to, suppressed; collusion and fear. I’ve felt that silence at times; as if an invisible hand is grasping at my throat; making it hard for me to squeeze the words out, to breathe. It’s the silence of the silenced, the voice-less; where all that's left is a dark, lifeless, empty...void.
So, we do well to tread with wisdom and insight here. 'There's a time to be silent and a time to speak' (Ecclesiastes 3:7). ‘Not every truth is the better for showing its face undisguised; and often silence is the wisest thing for a person to heed' (Pindar). Some things are best said, others better left unsaid. We may find ourselves awestruck, speech-less, lost for words. We may simply feel no need to speak. The same silence that one person finds awkward, difficult or lonely can feel calming, refreshing or revitalising for another.
What part does silence play in your leadership, OD, coaching or training? When is your best advice: ‘Don’t speak’?