Use silence to let answers emerge

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"Silence isn't empty, it's full of answers." — Unknown

In last week's note, we talked about the importance of speaking up, but I want to emphasize that silence as just as essential to keeping your integrity of self.

Speak up on behalf of your needs and your values, absolutely.

But for anyone who has ever been on the sidelines, they can tell you that pulling back from conversation can have its upsides.

You can observe so much more from a perspective of quiet interest.

As humans, we're natural tellers. We're story makers and we want nothing more than know that we're heard and understood.

Instinctually wanting to speak makes silence a difficult practice, but the fact that other people want to speak up too makes silence all the more useful.

As I'm beginning to grow tools for successful coaching, I'm finding one of the most advantageous of my new skills has been the ability to subtly question and wait for answers to emerge.

When you're not charging forward with what you think the answer will be, with what you think the other person will say or what you think you should do, you make room for the truth of what is actually there.

Instead of sharing your own experience when talking to a friend or acquaintance, get curious about what they have to say.

Ask questions that don't have yes or no answers.

"How...?" and "What...?" make the perfect starting place.

Once your conversational companion finishes a thought, don't be quick to jump in with your own.

Leave another moment of silence, or a murmur of agreement, and you'll be surprised to find how often the other person keeps expanding on the original statements.

Instead of making the aim to be heard, challenge yourself to do the hearing. This isn't just surface listening, nodding in the right moments with your mind off elsewhere—this is focused, intentional listening.

You are playing yourself in an information gathering game and what you discover will both help your responses be more relevant and helpful to the other person and lets you learn about your place in the world in relation to how other people actually feel (not just how you think they feel by talking over them).

Of course, you can be quiet without being a total wallflower.

The idea is not to be without personality, but to be receptive.

Once your talking partner comes to a natural end in their train of though, then if you have input about your own experience, by all means share it.

Using silence for answers to emerge applies not only to conversation with others but also in communication with yourself.

Don't just take what you think for granted, because each of us can get stuck in faulty thought patterns without realizing.

Instead, question statements you think of as true. One of my favorite questions for this are, "What if this wasn't true?" and "What would it be like if...?"

The other night I was sleepless, grumpily tossing and turning. But then I thought, "What would it be like if I was calm?" I quietly took a moment to consider. I subconsciously realized I was making the choice to have a sleepless hissy fit.

My body softened, I came to stillness and within a short minute or two, I conked asleep (this technique doesn't always work, but it's certainly worth a try if it results in dreams rather than wakeful restlessness).

In the case of trying this with yourself versus someone else, the silence comes from objective curiosity discerning what your mind chatter has to say.

There's a slight removal of self and ego from what you originally thought as you question whether it's true (since I mentioned sleep, a huge part of sleeping well is just that: allowing yourself to set aside your ego to rest, because it's otherwise very gratifying to your ego to get to keep talking and keeping you awake—regardless of whether it's bad for your mood and recharging your batteries).

This gentle pulling back and quiet inquiry is the basis for tapping into your intuition.

When you're not talking, you can listen to what is actually present.

I challenge you to start to bring awareness to your own silence (or lack of it) when you're with others and alone.

How might your relationship to the world and yourself change if you practice this technique of stepping back and curiously examining what's before you?

Let the answers emerge.

Iris Rankin

Soulful questioner, exuberant organizer, here to find the balance between discipline and delicious relaxation. Iris Rankin is the founder of Project Intention, a values-based community focused on living day-to-day with purpose, planning, and heart. Iris encourages women to adopt the self care practices that make them feel divine, the planning tools to hone in on their essential wants and needs, and the emotional resilience to express their most authentic selves.

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