Dr. Judith Wright | February 27, 2018

Engaging in Silence:
The Art of Active Listening

When we’re involved in conversation we may often forget one of the most powerful engagement tools we have is silence.

Do you wish you were better at active listening? Being a great listener isn’t about nodding your head or reiterating a point. Conversation is an art and engaged conversation requires practice. When we learn to provide a positive silent presence, we are unlocking one of our most powerful conversational tools.

Often, we’re eager to fill up the space in our social interactions by talking and chatter. We may even find silence a little unnerving. We discuss the time, the weather, current events and “thank goodness it’s Friday.” This is often simply conversational noise meant to make others and ourselves more comfortable.

Yet, in silence there is power. We learn more by active listening with intent. In fact, silence is integral to engagement.  If you want to engage with someone you must do more than simply talk and hear, you must learn to listen.

How to Engage with Active Listening
Are you engaged at work? As a parent? With your spouse or partner? When you take the train to work or when you go to church? When you jog in the morning and when you read a book at night? Are you engaged in your overall life project—not just a work project with a tight deadline or an interesting home project?
If you’re like most people, you’re scratching your head and wondering what we’re really asking. Some of you may believe that engaging means paying attention. You listen to every word your husband says (and could even repeat it back). Some of you may think it means focusing on the task at hand. You concentrate on your work assignments and don’t allow your attention to wander.
These are all forms of engagement, but they are probably not full engagement because you have feelings, urges, and yearnings that you aren’t bringing to bear.
Engaging is a deeper and wider concept than just listening or concentrating, though these are important elements of engaging… Understand that to be truly engaged, your yearning and your emotions must be involved.

Engagement means being involved fully—with your heart, mind, and soul. It means being willing to step out of your comfort zone, to stretch and push yourself further. Engagement begets a spark—an internal fire. It means you’re passionate about the situation. You’re focused intently, speaking honestly and openly. You’re aware of what you’re saying and how it might affect the other party. You are also aware of what the other party is saying and how it’s causing you to feel and react. Engagement is energizing, moving and powerful. It is brought by a sense of fulfillment and purpose—working toward a vision.

This level of conversation probably doesn’t sound like your typical elevator banter or water cooler chatter. This isn’t casual involvement. It’s sharing a real, powerful connection.

When we engage with others we’re authentic. We’re being honest with them and with ourselves. It doesn’t mean we’re always saying what they want to hear, or we think they want to hear. It also doesn’t mean we’re filling up the space or biding our time until we get to share our next thought. When we’re engaged, we’re present and in the moment. We’re focused.

The Art of Conversation

It’s been said conversation is an art, and it truly is. Deep and meaningful conversation—real engagement—requires give and take. It requires sharing and listening. Knowing when to open your heart to give and know when to hold your heart open to receive. Like a painter or a musician, we must refine and hone our craft. We must practice to become better engagers.

How many times have you been part of a great conversation where thoughts were flowing? It’s almost like a dance with the other person. When you’re truly engaged and connected it comes easily and freely. We may even receive a little pleasure boost or rush because engagement feels so good.

We long to connect with others. The desire to be seen and heard is a universal yearning. Humans want to engage. When we find ourselves holding back, measuring our response or clamming up, it’s often out of fear. We’re afraid of being rejected or of having our feelings misunderstood. We’re afraid the other person will miss out on our truth, so we hold it back.

Similarly, silence is a powerful tool yet we wield it as a weapon at times instead of an instrument. When we find ourselves giving someone the cold shoulder or engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, we’re misusing and weaponizing the power of silence.

You see, because silence is such a powerful tool it instantly conveys a feeling. Have you ever been in a meeting when a topic was presented someone didn’t like? What do they do? They sit back, tighten their lips and even fold their arms across their chest. They’re literally closing themselves off right in front of you. Their putting up their shield, ready to fight you with disengagement.

On the other hand, when someone’s really listening and engaged, their eyes light up! Suddenly their arms are unfolded and relaxed. They might turn toward you, lean in and even mirror your body language. Active listening involves energy. When we respond with a positive silent presence we’re also tapping into the power of silence. Instead of using it like a weapon, we’re using it as a tool—think of it like a basket—to catch, carry and hold the conversation.

We all want to be seen and held in positive regard. We want to be listened to. When you offer your positive listening company to another person, you are meeting their yearnings. You’re lifting them up. You’re engaging with them and consequently they will also become more engaged with you. This reciprocity is the very foundation of great conversation!

So, if you’re hoping to connect with those in your life more deeply, if you would like to have more confidence, a stronger presence and even be a better leader, practice your art of silence. Learn active listening and truly hear what the other person says. Don’t fill the silence. Simply be present and aware in the moment.

For more ways to discover your personal power, please join us for an upcoming More Life Training. You’ll learn to deeply engage with others and build new connections. We also offer many of our great courses online for download and purchase. Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to learn more about yourself and each other.

 About the Author


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 The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.

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