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  • Tamar Balkin

How’s The Serenity? Embracing Silence For Ourselves And Others

My photo of Mandalay Beach WA, in the middle of the D’Entrecasteaux National Park  Where the only company are a few quiet Kangaroos.

This week I was privileged to have a short swim at the beach before work. The water temperature this time of year in Sydney is magnificent, the tourists are, gone the beach is quiet and I had the opportunity to just float on my back and enjoy the silence and the sea. As I emerged refreshed from my swim I was reminded of the benefits of silence both for ourselves and our interactions with others. Silence is a micro-skill that can elevate a leader from good to great. Active listening is a fundamental skill for psychologists irrespective of the speciality that we choose and thus it is a component of many undergraduate degrees. I was fortunate to have an engaging lecturer who believed in experiential education and thus our classes had a large practical component. To this day I can recall how she demonstrated the power of appropriate attentive body language in conveying focused concentration when interviewing someone. She literally turned to look out the window  while a  student was in the middle of explaining a deeply sensitive matter. Naturally once the student noticed her lack of concentration he just stopped talking. Interestingly, once the lecturer regained eye contact and simply nodded at the student he carried on with his description. What she was teaching us was the power of silence, for her silence enabled the student to formulate his ideas and thoughts. She was also demonstrating the vast amounts of information conveyed by non-verbal cues. As you begin to pay attention to silence you may notice that many people break eye contact to think and then resume it when they are ready to speak.

In a leadership context silence can be extremely is useful in the following situations:

  • Providing feedback

  • Performance management 

  • Brainstorming 

  • Problem solving 

  • When you are ‘lost for words’

  • Resolve differences

  • Need to properly understand someone else’s point of view

"Supportive silence at the right time may be your most powerful and useful form of attending behaviour. Silence may say more than words, in the most important moments." Ivey

I am well aware that it takes a lot of patience, practice, and conscious awareness to not ‘break the silence’ in a serious conversation.  In fact, we can feel more comfortable and safer if we keep talking as it feels very risky to leave our words hanging without further explanation or defence. It’s important to keep in mind that silence can be misused, some people use it to express anger; others to hurt or punish others.   Silence improves our wellbeing:  While giving a client feedback on his GLWS I asked him what he would like to be doing “when his energy is failing, and he needs to make time to rest relax and recover”? He explained that he needs to be doing more of the following:

  • Going for an hour walk alone in the fresh air after dinner

  • Lying on the couch listening to music, not watching TV

What are the benefits of silence?

"One of my colleagues calls the internet the most effective short-term non-prescriptive pain killer’ Addiction is a way to numb our feelings.. That’s what the internet does for us. ‘Oh I’m having a feeling let’s see what’s on Twitter Oh I’m having a feeling let me just scroll through my phone’" Lori Gottlieb and  Scott Barry Kaufman

It seems that people are becoming reluctant to let an emotion positive or negative rise to the surface and be experienced. I often need to encourage my clients when they are describing an achievement to pause and actually let the pride and joy bubble up and it is extremely rewarding to watch the smile emerge on their faces.   What is even more challenging is for us all to realise that we need to pause in our lives and introduce some silence to allow ourselves to actually feel emotions and think about the world. If that’s too ‘new age’ for you here are some physical benefits of silence:

  • Improved mental health.

  • Lower blood pressure, which can help prevent heart attack.

  • Boost the body’s immune system.

  • Benefit brain chemistry by growing new cells

  • Decrease stress by lowering blood cortisol levels and adrenaline.

  • Promote good hormone regulation and the interaction of bodily hormone-related systems.

  • Prevent plaque formation in arteries.

  • Improve sleep quality

  • Improved creativity – When allowing thoughts to go where they will, inspiration may bubble up. Solutions to current or long-standing problems may suddenly occur to you, or a work-around or innovative approach may seem more feasible. Ideas for going in a different direction could coalesce, helping build momentum and excitement for spinning them off into yet other potential avenues to pursue.

How can you insert some silence into your life?

  • Turn your phone onto silent for a few minutes

  • Resist the temptation to schedule every minute of your day.

  • When you have an unexpected break don’t always fill it with noise and tasks

  • Make time to just sit and experience emotions

  • Make time to just look at what is around you 

  • Leave your desk and walk around the block

  • Float in a bath or the ocean.

  • If complete silence is too intense then find the type of music that allows your mind to be free.

Then enjoy the serenity and let your thoughts and feelings wash over you.

To watch my favourite lines about serenity from the movie "The Castle" Click here

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