What if I told you silence is good for communication? Would you believe me?
You wouldn’t be alone if you said no. Most people probably would disagree with me. In fact, many would argue that silence isn’t even communication at all.
In reality, though, silence can be a very effective communication tool. Communication is simply about conveying a message, and sometimes silence can do that better than any words.
You may have heard the statistic that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. It comes from research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian. He found that words convey only seven percent of our message, while the rest of communication occurs through our tone, volume, facial expressions, gestures, posture and the like. So if the majority of communication is nonverbal, doesn’t it make sense that silence could be good communication?
In relationships, communication often becomes a game of oneupsmanship, rather than an exchange of ideas. The goal becomes to get the last word or have your idea win out, instead of a sharing of ideas. When communication functions in this way in a relationship, division is fostered rather than unity. It’s no wonder that “communication problems” is the top problem cited by partners coming to couples counseling.
Here are three reasons to use silence in your communication:
- Communicate better. Many of us talk too much. All of us occasionally can be guilty of overtalking a subject to the extent that our point is missed. Silence forces us to shut up and get our message across in fewer words. Ironically, fewer words can result in a clearer, stronger message.
- Hear what’s really being said. Keeping our tongue quiet frees us up to listen to our partner. When we’re not running off at the mouth, we can focus on what the other person is saying, plus pay attention to their nonverbal communication.
- Reach resolution faster. The goal of communication should be to share information and reach a decision, not to win. Being silent at times not only reduces the noise but also speeds up resolution.
It’s important to keep in mind that silence can be misused, too. Some people use it to express anger; others to hurt or punish their partner. It’s commonly used in abusive relationships. But silence can be used for good as well as bad. So don’t let any negative experiences with silence keep you from using one of the best forms of communication.
It does take some courage to use silence as a communication tool, and it’s not always easy to do. Ironically, we can feel more comfortable and safer if we keep talking. It’s risky to leave our words hanging without further explanation or defense. But there’s power in that silence, too.
Give silence a try. It can take some practice to learn how and when to use it correctly, so be patient and give yourself some time to learn. But when you do learn how to use silence effectively, look out. Your communication will become much more powerful.