How does Silence Lead to Effective Communication?

Last night, I ate at a diner with a friend. It was one of those long dinners where there were many topics of conversation, each truly important to our lives. Sometimes I talked and she listened and sometimes she talked and I listened. Those conversations, and even the silent moments in between while appreciating our meals, seemed to light up the day and to leave me contemplating our conversation for hours afterwards.

This harmony between talking and listening, chatting and silence, is a topic that Pope Benedict XVI highlights for this year’s World Communication’s Day.  His unique perspective rings startling true to me: “the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved.”

When I think about communication, the first thing that comes to my mind is not silence. With an office phone and a cell phone, work email and personal email, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, communication can seem overwhelmingly noisy sometimes. And yet, I think we all have experiences where we know what the Holy Father means.

Sitting across from us at that same dinner was a couple. They weren’t looking at each other, weren’t talking, but were both busily “communicating” on their respective Smart Phones. I immediately reflected how communication tools can often get in the way of authentic communication with one another. Especially with all of these tools at our finger tips, too often I can be reticent to put my phone away, close my computer and simply enjoy another person’s company.

The Pope writes, “In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves.”

In other words, spending time in silence (disconnected from the many modes of communicating), whether with another or alone, enables us to communicate more deeply and more effectively.

How do you find time for a silence? Here are just a couple of ways I’ve been trying to increasingly integrate it into my life:

  • Taking a walk around the block, without a cell phone or an Ipod, and using those moments to reflect
  • Disconnecting from my computer while eating lunch at work, reading a book or article I’ve printed out
  • Focusing on truly listening to those I’m talking to, not engaging in distracting thoughts about things I need to accomplish
  • Putting my phone on silent and in my pocket for the duration of a visit with a friend
  • Spending some time in silent prayer each week

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