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Silence is not an absence of communication, it is an important communication tool.  We rarely talk about the power of silence as a tool for effective communication.  Silence is not just an absence of noise; it can be as important as speech as part of communication. The power and the meaning of silence will depend on the context in which it’s being used.

Silence can be constructive but it can also be destructive. Constructive silence moves a conversation forward. Constructive silences can enhance communication and both promote and maintain an existing relationship. Destructive silence shuts down communication and creates barriers that discourage speakers from expressing themselves.

Excellent communicators know how to use silence when it’s effective or called for. They are attentive to the need and use of silence in a conversation.

Here are three reasons to use silence in your communication:

  • To communicate better. Silence forces you to be quiet and get your message across in fewer words. Fewer words can result in stronger messages.
  • To hear what’s really being said. When you’re quiet you can focus on what the other person is saying as well as on their nonverbal, communication and really hear what is being “said”.
  • To reach resolution faster. This primarily applies in work and professional situations but if you were in a problem-solving conversation with the person you’re visiting the use of silence may help you reach solutions more rapidly.

Take a few moments to watch each of these two short videos. Each of them is about two minutes long.  The first is a discussion about the use of silence as a communication.

This second video (2 minutes) shows the effective use of silence in a conversation not dissimilar from a conversation you might have when doing a peer visit.

Try this exercise

Sit facing another person who is willing to engage in a practice conversation with you.   Start by taking a few seconds to silently look each other directly in the eyes. Then begin by saying a couple of sentences about something important to you. It doesn’t have to be your deepest thoughts or secrets (although it could be if you want), just something that you wouldn’t normally share in whatever context you are in. You maintain direct eye contact the whole time, and before the other person is allowed to respond, 10 full seconds must elapse in total silence while you continue to hold eye contact.

Then the other person responds with a statement or a question, in one or two sentences. And again, before you respond, you sit facing each other for another 10 seconds of eye contact and silence. Back and forth you go like this for about three to four minutes.

Reflection Exercise

How to complete this activity and save your work: type your reflective responses to the questions in the boxes below. When you’re done reflecting on the questions, navigate to the export page to download and save your responses. If you prefer to work in a Word document offline, you can skip to the export section and download a Word document of the reflection here.



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Amputee Coalition of Canada Peer Visitor Guide Copyright © by Kirsten Woodend is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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