Dr. Judith Wright | October 12, 2016

The Power of Silence :
Purposeful Passiveness

 

There’s a great quote from Eastern philosophy: “Silence is the most powerful scream.” We often talk about the importance of expressing ourselves, engaging in conflict and making our presence known—but the purposeful use of silence can also be a powerful tool for getting our message across. 


When we think about someone who projects a powerful stance, expresses their power, and ensures their voice is heard, we typically think of a more…assertive personality and approach.

Perhaps you even think of someone who’s aggressive, domineering, and who yells and speaks loudly. Perhaps an assertive boss comes to mind, or a speaker captivating the room, or an in-law dominating a conversation, or maybe someone who drives and conducts in a meeting.

Power comes from expressing your voice and freely offering your feelings and opinions in life. When we think of power, we think of someone who makes a statement—someone who ensures their voice is heard.

This typical definition of power is one we see in the media and learn about in school, so it becomes an integral part of our psyche. We see “powerful” in media moguls, politicians, and businessmen. We learn that people who are loud and famous get heard.

Consequently, when we’re silent, we feel powerless. When our voice is quieted, we feel dominated and under someone else’s control. We feel like we’ve lost our ability to speak up. Maybe we’re silent to “show them” or to make a point, but in the silence, there’s desperation or a loss of power.

We’ve discussed the danger and even the weakness in giving “the silent treatment” when it comes to our relationships. When we silence our own voice and try to control others by giving them the cold shoulder, we’re actually picking the passive aggressive route. This “hidden middle finger” is unproductive at best, and can be highly damaging and detrimental at its worst. It doesn’t go anywhere, as both sides engage in a standoff, trying to “show” the other just how much they can withhold.

Yet, on the converse of all of this, there’s another side to being silent.

The Other Side of Silence: Powerful Silence

Have you thought about the concept of passive power? There’s silence and power that attracts, rather than projects. In the Eastern philosophy of yin/yang, this is the feminine vs. masculine concept (although it’s not necessarily gender-related or specific). It’s the power of being open, encompassing and bringing things in rather than pushing them out.

This passive power is often overlooked—and it includes the power of silence.

Active and purposeful silence isn’t about being disengaged or shutting down. It’s about listening. It’s allowing others in the space to respond, and allowing them to talk their way through and reason out their response before jumping to a conclusion. This isn’t silence used to control the space or conversation—this is strategic silence deployed to allow the conversation to blossom and move forward.

Not only does your positive, silent presence make a huge difference in how others feel toward you and how they respond, but research shows it also impacts the quality of information you receive from others. Actively listening, showing interest, and truly hearing and relating to others gives you untold power, plus the ability to share your vision and relate to and learn from others.

When your silence conveys a positive attitude through smiling, nodding, and open body position, people use more interpretive abstract language. They go deeper into the conversation and they share their opinions more openly. If your silent presence is frowning and you appear more closed off, the person or people you’re listening to may tend to be more careful and analytic and only share concrete, descriptive facts.

Have you ever had one of those conversations with a powerful person? Where you feel compelled to keep talking and share, simply because they give you an encouraging “vibe” or let off an aura that just made you want to keep going? You might not have realized it until you walked away, or after the conversation when you had time to reflect. You may have thought, “Wow, why did I just share so much?”

It was because you were in the presence of a powerful listener. You were in the presence of someone who understood that silence is the most powerful scream.

How to Use Silence

So how can you learn to harness the power of silence? Is it simply listening and nodding? Is it just staring at someone while they continue to wax on and on? How do you get your point across, too?

Like all kinds of power, there are times to use silence and times not to use it. Many times, silence is powerful, even when it’s being used passive-aggressively. That’s why giving your partner the cold shoulder or sitting back in a boring meeting and being despondent gets your point of irritation across. Silence always speaks volumes, but not all volumes are productive or responsible. Not only that, but sometimes silence can lead others to simply shut down, ignore you, or decide to withdraw themselves because they’re tired of the standoff.

So ask yourself in any given situation: “Does my silence create a sense of security, comfort, and affirmation, or lead to a greater sense of self—or is my silence intimidating, punishing, threatening, or withholding? Am I being silent to manipulate, or is my silence creating a space for others to express their yearnings and make their point?”

Many of us might have learned to withhold or suppress our voice while we were growing up. Perhaps your parents used the “silent treatment” to let you know they were hurt or angry with you, or to send the message that your behavior wasn’t acceptable. As adults, this kind of “disapproving parent” silence isn’t a responsible use of power. It doesn’t include an expression of your judgments and feelings directly. It’s simply a way to keep the other side guessing at what they’re doing wrong, with no clear way to resolve it.

Many of us weren’t trained to be a powerful, positive presence with our silence that results in a productive outcome, but fortunately, we can still learn. We’ve learned to talk and to express, but we haven’t learned to use our silence to listen.

Try to intentionally and purposefully use the power of silence in your business meetings and at home. Rather than jumping in to express your opinions and lead the conversation, sit back, actively listen and affirm, but stay silent.

Your silence can be profoundly powerful. Try engaging fully—being present, awake and alive, and in the here-and-now as you interact with others. Harness the power of your silence and experiment with the positive power of your very presence!

 

Learn more about how to engage your empathy and active listening skills at WrightLiving.com. Join us at our next Foundations Weekend Training to learn how to strengthen your relationships and grow within all of your interactions.

 


About the Author

Judith

Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach. She is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.


Loving the content and want more? Follow Judith on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!

Liked this post and want more? Sign up for updates – free!

Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.

SHARE THE LOVE!

RELATED POSTS