Learn to love silence

After I had recently done a one-minute (!) focussing exercise at the beginning of a retrospective, one participant remarked that he could never get used to these “esoteric” exercises. We then had a minor altercation about silence and how difficult many people find it to endure silence. Loving silence has nothing to do with the esoteric.

In my role as a facilitator, I have become a friend of silence. And my route there was not easy. I like to talk and passionately, when I do. I am sometimes impulsive and too quick for others. Through experience I have learned to keep quiet and to listen very carefully, especially when someone else is speaking. If you were to ask some of my colleagues how much progress I have made, they will probably say she is still practising. That’s how I see it too, it’s an ongoing exercise to become quiet and stay quiet. I am happy about every step I take towards stillness away from the deluge of noise.

When I ask a question in a workshop, I consciously allow silence. Many people ask a question and cannot endure the other person needing time to find the answer. I know the magic of silence when everyone is thinking about their answer. When I myself feel fidgety or impatient, I count inwardly from 10 to 30 (which is a maximum of 20 seconds – for many already far too long) and consciously maintain a relaxed body posture. I observe the group and can tell from their body language whether the time to answer has come.

If you look at people with mindfulness and complete awareness, this is only possible in silence. Then those who are heard start to talk and say what is really on their minds. Wonders can happen, we can experience magical moments, encounter the special, the unheard of. We cannot force such moments. But they are incredibly valuable when people really want to develop further, beyond the purely methodical. Suddenly, personal issues are apparent for which there seemed to be no room in hectic everyday life. Deep insights into attitudes and values become visible when I take my time in conversation and permit silence.

Who taught me to be still? Nature. When you observe birds or other animals in the woods, you have to be quiet. Otherwise those you observe will quickly disappear. In general, encounters with wild animals are usually fleeting. When you are quiet in nature, you hear sounds that you hadn’t notice before. And you can train your ears for these natural sounds so that you can catch the song of a robin even standing on the side of a busy road. You listen selectively, you decide which sounds you want to focus on and react to. And we know from many studies that listening to natural sounds is relaxing. Listening to artificial sounds, on the other hand, is stressful.

By the way: particularly in spring, nature is anything but quiet. Birds warble, brooks gurgle, bees hum, leaves rustle and somewhere something snaps in the undergrowth. Sounds everywhere. And yet we often refer to the din in nature as silence because it does us good and we compare these sensations with the shrill noise pollution from our cities or streets. 

These days I have come to love silence and withdraw consciously and regularly in order to listen within and find out how I am really am at the moment, how I really feel, without putting on an act. In doing so, I don’t have to sit still, but can be in nature or moving in a workout. I also never tire of practising stillness with project groups. And I am happy when a whole new, refreshing form of team communication gradually emerges. More asking instead of telling, more compassion instead of objectivity, more curiosity and closeness to the individual. This is how connectedness and genuine mutual trust emerge.

I no longer want to do without these islands of quiet focus, as they bring me energy and clarity. And they train me to meet my counterpart with curiosity and compassion.

And believe me: although I am a fan of silence, I always look forward to “chatting” with my friends… .


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