still waters run deep the art of silenceThere is an expression that “still waters run deep” that is often applied to people who tend to be mostly silent and low-key in their exterior lives that belies much complexity, thoughtfulness, and depth in their interior lives.

In other words, these people are masters at the art – and revel in the beauty of – silence. They enjoy the sound of silence. They crave more silence than not. And they are completely comfortable – in fact, they are most comfortable – in and with silence.

Before we discuss the art and beauty of silence, we must clear up some common misconceptions.

First, the art of silence doesn’t mean never talking (or writing), nor does it mean a lack of passion when talking (or writing). It’s not an either/or trait, unlike the way a lot of this-or-that, all-or-nothing generalists tend to portray the art of silence.

Second, the art of silence doesn’t indicate weakness, shyness, fear, or being intimidated. Too often the art of silence is portrayed as an inferior trait. Nothing could be further than the truth!

Third, the art of silence doesn’t mean not listening and not hearing. In fact, it means just the the opposite. Unlike talkative people who have great difficulty (and many times are completely tone-deaf) listening to and hearing anybody else because they’re so busy talking themselves, people who are masters at the art of silence hear and see everything that is said or done.

The difference is the art of silence, which includes self-control and self-discipline, knows when and/or if to respond to things that are said and done, which is why the art of silence is a quintessential leadership trait.

While the art of silence comes naturally to some people (introverts, for example, as described in Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), it is something that can be learned by everybody.

How do quintessential leaders use the art of silence? And why do quintessential leaders use the art of silence? Those are the two aspects of the art of silence that we will look at today.

One of the ways that quintessential leaders use the art of silence is to filter out distractions. Distractions come in many forms, but one of the most prevalent and hardest to avoid and/or ignore is incessant talking.

Some people who talk incessantly just need to talk all the time. And if they can find someone who will engage with them interactively, then they have even more to talk about.

Some of these people can’t abide any kind of silence, so in the absence of external noise, they talk to fill the void. Everything that comes into their minds comes out of their mouths.

There is no editing and there is no evaluation of timing, appropriateness, or audience. The words are simply there and they must be uttered immediately out loud.

Because there is no content control for people who need to talk, there is often inciting and offensive content in what they talk about as well.

The other kinds of people who talk incessantly are people who think out loud to process their ideas. These people are also looking for engagement because they want external feedback as they work through the process.

the art of silence and the beautiful of silence quintessential leadershipThe same lack of content control, timing, and appropriateness may accompany this.

More likely, though, the biggest distraction in this kind of incessant talking is the drawn-out, rambling, unorganized, and sometimes incoherent process of formulating ideas out loud (people who are masters of the art of silence go through the same idea-formulating process, but they do it internally, not externally).

Quintessential leaders use the art of silence to stop the distraction of incessant talking by refusing to engage in the moment (incessant talkers need engagement, so if someone won’t engage, they’ll move and find others who will).

Quintessential leaders also use the art of silence in this situation because if their flow of productivity in working/thinking/life, which requires complete focus and attention, gets interrupted, they will lose a lot of time in the future to get back into that flow, if, in fact, they are able to. In other words, the total cost of not using the art of silence far outweighs any benefit of immediate engagement. 

However, for some idea formulations (either in terms of importance, experience, and/or coaching), quintessential leaders are very willing to participate, but the timing and the scope must be negotiated and agreed upon in advance.

And there are two crucial reasons why.

The first reason is because quintessential leaders will have the time to come fully prepared for discussions like these. The second reason is so that quintessential leaders can carve out a piece of time to give the person and the process their undivided attention.

Another area where quintessential leaders use the art of silence is the area of dealing with challenging people. No matter what teams we lead in life, there will always be a challenging cast of characters among them.

Challenging people may be uninformed and biased-by-spinning loudmouths. They may be instigators. They may be argumentative. They may be talebearers (includes gossiping). They may be extremely needy. They may be drama queens or kings. They may be attention-seekers. They may be manipulators.

In whatever form challenging people appear (and I’ve listed some of the major areas above), quintessential leaders must be adept in using the art of silence in the right way at precisely the right times to effectively neutralize and/or eliminate the area of challenge.

There are two things that all challenging people are looking for in terms of satisfaction with these kinds of behaviors. One is total engagement. The other is total agreement (or a really good knock-down-drag-out argument).

Quintessential leaders give them neither with the art of silence.

Silence has several positive results.

First, quintessential leaders are modeling the right behavior – in effect, coaching them in “this-is-what-it-looks-like” – for their teams to learn as they encounter challenging people along the way.

Second, the art of silence immediately shuts down the challenging person. It also removes them and their influence from the team, because if there is no satisfaction in one place, challenging people will quickly go looking somewhere else for it, since that’s the driving need behind these behaviors.

noisy discordant screeching A third way that quintessential leaders use the art of silence is to create enough space between them and everything and everyone else to create a place in their lives where they can retreat to as often and as long as they need to. This place is a place of assured peace, safety, comfort, and….wait for it…silence where quintessential leaders go to recharge and regroup.

Quintessential leaders don’t disconnect from life when they go to this place. They are fully engaged in everything that is important in life in necessary, productive, and practical ways.

However, they are completely distanced from all the unnecessary, all the impractical, all the frivolous, and all the jingly-jangly-clanging noise that comes at us from every direction and makes up our modern existences.

This is a personal and internal requirement for quintessential leaders, because this place must exist for quintessential leaders to be quintessential leaders. How often and how long the stays are will vary from situation to situation and individual to individual. But they must occur regularly.

If they don’t, then quintessential leaders become unquintessential leaders because they will lose sight of the big-picture, the vision, the focus, and the effective use of the art – and beauty of – silence.

And they will end up simply being another discordant note in the ever-increasingly-screeching and ear-splitting symphony of noise that has become the never-ending soundtrack of our lives.

Are we effectively using the the art of silence or have we forgotten and are on our way to becoming an insignificant off-key note that is lost in a maze of unpalatable noise?

I can answer that for myself alone.

What is your answer? 

 

Comments
  1. […] But it means that we have to be willing to go in a different direction from the crowd of society, and most of us, it seems, get more short-term satisfaction from following the crowd and being part of it than we do from the conscious effort of taking care of ourselves and making changes and choices that are neurologically – and physically and emotionally – he…. […]

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  2. […] and Being Attached to Technology 24/7 is Creating A Dementia Effect on Society” and “The Quintessential Leader Perspective On the Art – and Beauty – of Silence,” which everybody should take some time now to […]

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  3. […] requires us to identify a quiet and solitary (disconnected from all distractions) place and a time where and when we will pause […]

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