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We are persistently optimistic about our communications, especially when we want to share an experience or an idea. The unbridled excitement can only be tempered by silence. The silence impacts the flow of the conversation. Perhaps the silence is, give me some time to listen and understand before responding, or this conversation is meaningless to me.

"This is my opinion." Please do not interrupt me while I am speaking, yet I dread silence, so please fill the room with chatter, so there's no silence. Let us fill this void even if we must talk over each other and interrupt each other in conversation. Then follow up with I'm not sure I understand what you meant with what you just said. Please don't stop talking. I don't want boredom to set in.

Silence happens and can get in the way of conversations if you panic. However, don't be discouraged when silence appears in conversation. Learning to adapt and embrace silence in conversation is a skill to develop. It's an opportunity to practice listening and allowing the other party to respond.

Can you deal with a few seconds of silence in a conversation?

What does silence mean to you in a conversation?

In conversations, are you comfortable with silence?

Are you ignoring me? I ask you a question, and you haven't answered. If you haven't answered, then you must be taking me for granted. I'm sure you heard me, anyways; conversations are so difficult with you because you always seem preoccupied when I'm trying to have a conversation with you.

I bet if your friends were talking to you, you would have so much to say. I hear you on the phone all the time just running your mouth non-stop, and I'm asking you a simple question, yet you have no words. Thanks for your silent answers. They have so much value. I imagine I talk too much, but you don't have to worry about hearing my voice. Even worst, I can ask you an open-ended question, and you give me a one-word answer. So I apologize for bothering you.

There is also a common perception that silence in a conversation is the other person disengaging. We seek thoughtful responses in our communications. Silence in conversations isn't necessarily disengagement; it can also signify that the other person is reflecting before answering or responding to the topic of discussion.

Who has time for reflection when we desire a constant flow of information?

We desire an immediate response, and the lack of prompt response often results in automatic adverse reactions. The automatic negative response to silence does not bode well for the health of the current conversation or future conversations. Sometimes, we label the silent person in ways that make them seem guarded. For example, overlooking the person could be shy or not comprehending the communication. Reflecting before answering make you become someone who listens before speaking or interrupting the other person.

From a speaking/talking culture, silence will take the wind off your sails. You appreciate a few seconds of silence in conversations if you are from a listening culture. In general terms, western cultures are considered talking cultures and eastern listening cultures. So, in both cultures, silence in conversation is treated differently.

Robert King, in his book the Fundamentals of Human Communications, shared eight types of silence and the message each type of silence conveys:

  • Isolation – I can't be bothered with this conversation.

  • Dogmatism – I've said all I'm going to say on this topic. I'll not say another word.

  • Anger – I'm frustrated with you and this topic.

  • Grief or Pain – this is a significant loss.

  • Reverence – this is phenomenal, and I'm at a loss for words.

  • Contemplation – give me a moment to process what you just said.

  • Confusion – I'm unclear about what you shared.

  • Compassion – I get what you say, but I don't have the words to express my feelings, and you have my sincere empathy.

A moment of silence in a conversation can seem like an eternity. The silence can also seem awkward, but be mindful that silence is not always hostile, a lack of interest, or hinder communication. Silence is also positive in conversations if you understand the meaning of silence.

  • The silence is likely an indication the conversation has gone on for too long.

  • You are using vocabulary unfamiliar to the person you are communicating with.

  • The person is being thoughtful about what you are communicating before responding.

  • You are nervous and talking too much because you fear silence.

  • The person you communicate with does not know how to respond to what you share.

  • Silence can be a polite way of saying you have my attention, and I want to understand before responding.

In short, silence can have more than one meaning, and your interpretation of the silence can influence your reaction or response. For example, one or several of the eight types of silence above could play. Still, it is relevant to discern when to wrap up a conversation. Let us embrace occasional silence in our communication.

Thank you for reading this blog post.

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