The Power of Silence

Joan F. Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California
September 2002

"Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence. The great Sufi poet Rumi wrote, "Only let the moving waters calm down, and the sun and moon will be reflected on the surface of your being" ~ Deepak Chopra.

In a previous article, titled "The Power of Listening," I explained some of the main advantages of mastering the power of silence. True, silence can only be heard when you listen. Silence is the single phenomenon that has the seemingly contradictive ability to express everything by expressing nothing. "Well-timed silence is the most commanding expression" ~ Mark Helprin ~

Silence is oftentimes seen as the next step after words – for it has the capacity to say so much more. And it becomes a more valuable asset as we mature. Just think of your teenage son or daughter who even studies with the radio or television on loudly! However, as we age, concentration becomes harder to obtain when there are distractions in play, and silence becomes a substitute for serenity. Silence has the ability to create an atmosphere of contentment or discomfort – depending on the circumstances – and one’s inner world.

In business, silence is an old strategy predominantly used by our eastern friends, to accomplish bargains. By creating blocks of silence, they force the noisy western partner into a state of discomfort that he/she wants to end as soon as possible. They know that "There are times when silence has the loudest voice." (Leroy Brownlow) Result: the westerner pours an enormous splash water in the sales wine – sometimes to a level that the wine loses its taste.

Silence is a dreadful tool to spouses who are troubled with a bad conscience. Imagine the man who comes home late after having done something he knows his wife does not approve of. Her most effective weapon, even more than a curse-cannonade, is cold silence. It takes a strong and imperturbable character to ignore this type of silence and act as if nothing is wrong. This epitomizes a case where "silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute" (Josh Billings). It may also be the perfect example of what Che Guevara meant when he stated, "Silence is argument carried on by other means."

In a conversation, especially in job interviews, silence is often used as a strategy to obtain more information from the applicant than he/she initially planned to provide. Fact of the matter is that people always feel obligated to speak up when silence starts pressing their eardrums. Why? Because our society generally does not prepare its members to be comfortable with silence. "Sticks and stones are hard on bones aimed with angry art. Words can sting like anything but silence breaks the heart." ~ Phyllis McGinley ~

In education it is a rule of thumb to ask students whether they have questions or comments on the discussed topic, and then wait 8 seconds before moving on. The silence usually gets them going. However, everything after those 8 seconds – if nobody speaks up - seems to be regarded uncomfortable.

In any possible situation, silence may be the best way to go if you're not sure about your point. Regrettably, too many people think that by talking rapidly and eloquently, sometimes about issues that are beside the relevance of the underlying topic, they can impress their audience. What they don't realize is that the only audience you can impress with an overdose of meaningless words and conversational side streets is an ignorant one. An alert, educated team of listeners will prefer succinctness, followed by silence instead of annoying text, for "It is better to be silent, and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt." ~ Silvan Engel ~

Ultimately, silence can be regarded the most desired state of experience when one has a rich inner world, and recognizes the need to accommodate a free flow of his/her thoughts at a regular pace. People who appreciate silence are the ones that have achieved a desirable level of inner wealth: they don't need any distraction or sound to disturb the nirvana within. So..."Let us be silent that we may hear the whispers of the gods." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~