By Susan Begeman Steiner
I am discovering how freeing it is to choose not to speak rather than say something that I might normally say. When I am quiet instead of telling that great story or making a witty comment, it changes everything. Suddenly – pang! -- there is a silent moment.
A conversation that includes moments of silence is like a sailboat moving along in harmony with the wind. A good sailor is aware of the wind at all times and sailing could be seen as a creation between man, boat and wind. It is certainly not a prescribed activity. In the same way, if we are quiet enough to be aware during conversations, they can be refreshing and creative also.
Often we find ourselves talking to fill the silence. Talking because we feel it’s expected of us as a boss, friend or teacher. Talking because we want attention.
Many conversations seem to move at the pace of a speedboat cutting through the waves on the surface of a lake. The speed is possible because most conversations are scripted. We know what we are expected to say, because we’ve said it many times. Here are some familiar conversation scenarios:
#1 "I know best:" State your opinion, listen to see if the other person agrees, then, if she doesn’t, restate your opinion or give more evidence to support it.
#2 Complaining: Complain about something with someone and then discuss who is to blame or wonder together why everyone is so stupid.
#3 One-upmanship: Tell an entertaining story and after someone else tells an even more entertaining story, tell a joke so everyone will laugh.
#4 Small Talk: Ask how someone’s doing, without really wanting to know the answer. Then say something neutral and be sure to mention the weather.
Silence breaks up the script. It becomes the invitation to experience which way the wind is blowing and let the conversation go into a more “organic” direction.
In the silent moments during a conversation, we can ponder and savor the last thing that was said, or give the opportunity for a new thought to arise or simply enjoy a moment or two of delicious silence.
How do you break the script? Here are some ideas:
• Ask about something the person just said. Then be quiet and really listen to his answer.
• Be quiet enough to begin to feel where the conversation wants to go naturally -- and then follow it there.
• Clear your mind, be mostly quiet and just enjoy a conversation whose outcome you cannot predict.
• Focus on being connected with the other person, instead of on what you will say next.
Choosing not to talk sometimes and being more quiet in general, can lead to a deeper experience of the moment and the resulting discovery of surprise at what is revealed.