20 years ago, I took a Middle School teaching job at a boarding school in Western Connecticut called Indian Mountain School (IMS).
I remember when I took the job and my Mom, with her classic Boston accent, said to me,
“Ad..What’s a baahding school?”
I was a public school kid growing up and pretty unfamiliar with boarding school culture as well.
I spent one year at IMS and had a great overall experience; however, it didn’t come without its challenges.
A friend of mine had passed away the previous year and I was struggling emotionally.
At about the midpoint of the IMS year, I went to see a therapist named Dan, who worked at another boarding school.
He was an older gentleman, had a long white beard and some of the friendliest eyes I had ever encountered.
I recall feeling quite anxious in our first meeting, as I sat in the chair across from him.
He said, “welcome – what’s going on?”…
And I started sharing all the things that were going on in my head, with the hope that he was going to provide me with some answers, and solutions for all of my problems.
Well….he did the opposite. He didn’t say ANYTHING. He just sat there in silence.
And…so….of course, I kept talking.
This was the first time I witnessed how powerful silence can be as a communication skill, and as I reflect on the last 20 years, there are a few other people who come to mind that supported me along the way and utilized silence as an effective communication tool, in a similar fashion to the way Dan did.
The way that Dan utilized silence in our therapy sessions provided me with a safe container to explore things on a deeper level.
He didn’t have any judgement, wasn’t trying to teach me anything, and didn’t have an agenda. He was simply there to support me through a challenging time.
I’ll often utilize silence in my coaching practice, as it’s a great way to give the other person time to reflect on their thoughts and feelings.
In many respects, it also indirectly encourages people to keep talking – silence is uncomfortable; and oftentimes, people feel inclined to fill the empty space with more words. 🙂
The cool thing is that you don’t have to be a therapist, or a coach, to use silence as an effective communication skill. In fact, it’s pretty easy to do…..
Don’t say anything…
See what happens.
It’s important that you enter into the conversation from a place of neutrality, and check yourself for any judgements that come to the surface; otherwise, you’ll bring a different type of energy to the process, and it most likely won’t be very effective.
Let me know how it goes.