In a recent article entitled “Hemingway, Thoreau, Jefferson and the Virtues of a Good Long Walk“, Ariana Huffington explored what some of our great thinkers had to say about the advantages of a good walk. She also provided the following observations by painters, sculptors, poets, actors and musicians.
“Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modeled space. Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space.” Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses… Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note — silences which give the form.”
It was the comment from Ralph Richardson that got me thinking. “Acting lay in pauses.” So much of what we communicate is not only in what we say, but want we don’t say. Even more specifically than the words we don’t use are the silences we place in between. These pauses do much more than simply provide us with a moment to think. As they relate to effective communication, pauses give the listener time to process what was just said. Simply talking over someone, or verbally browbeating them into acquiescence (notice I didn’t say acceptance) is not communication.
When we pause, we are accomplishing several things. First, we are telling the listener that we’re done. At least done with a specific thought. Second, a pause shows respect in that we are providing them time to think about what we said and articulate their response. It’s only in their response that the communication process actually begins.
If we really examine the pauses, the in-between, we realize that this is where the real communication occurs. What we say, the words we use, the tone of our voices and the body language employed is important, of course; but it is the processing of all this information that is critical. It’s the “sounds of silence” that count.
So, I want you to do two things. One, listen to Paul Simon’s “Sounds of Silence” from the 1966 album of the same name. Just because it’s just a great song and you should treat yourself. Two, the next time you have a conversation with someone, try extending the silences “in between”. I think you will be amazed as to how more effective your communication will be.