When you think of power, you probably think about an assertive boss or coworker, a speaker captivating a room, an inlaw who dominates a conversation, or someone driving a meeting.
It’s no surprise—that’s the aspect of power that dominates the media, our classroom case studies, and our psyche.
But have you thought about passive power-—attractive vs. projecting, feminine vs. masculine? One type of passive power that’s often overlooked and underrated is the power of silence.
Not only does your positive, silent presence make a huge difference in how others feel with you and how they respond, but research shows that it also impacts the quality of information you receive from others. When your silence conveys a positive attitude—through smiling, nodding, open body position—people use more interpretive abstract language, go deeper into the conversation, and they share their opinions more openly. If your silent presence is frowning and more closed, speakers tend to be more careful and analytic and only share concrete, descriptive facts.
Like all kinds of power, there are times to use silence and times not to use it. All uses of silence are powerful. But all uses of silence are not necessarily responsible. Does the silence create a sense of security, comfort, affirmation, or lead to a greater sense of self; or is it intimidating, punishing, threatening, or withholding?
Growing up, there were probably many things that you were encouraged to withhold and not express. Sometimes the “silent treatment” was used to let you know that someone was hurt and angry with you or that what you did was not acceptable. That’s not a responsible use of the power, because it doesn’t include the expression of the person’s feelings and judgments to you directly.
Many of us weren’t trained to be a powerful, positive presence with our silence for a productive outcome. Think of people you know that have a powerful silence about them, a power that you sense when they simply walk into a room. What are they like? How do they look? How do they carry themselves and walk through the room? What do you notice about them? There is a presence of silence that is powerful, grabs attention, and causes you to assume certain things about that person or situation. Their very presence and their silent demeanor demands respect and affirmation.
Your Weekly Assignment
This week, try intentionally and purposefully using the power of silence in your business meetings and at home. Experiment with the positive power of your very presence. Your silence can be profoundly powerful. Try engaging fully—being present, awake and alive, in the here and now as you interact with others.
The look on your face, your gestures, carriage, and walk; your “aura”; your way of being; the space you create within and around you; your silent affirmation and assent; your sense of compassion, understanding, acceptance; and your internal intent are all aspects of your power.
Practice being aware, present, “being there.” Turn on the light of your being and turn it off as an experiment. You might be surprised to discover how powerful you really are!
Wishing you a spectacular week,
Bob and Judith Wright