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The Wisdom of Silence

June 24, 2015

The Wisdom of SilenceThe Heavy Lifting

There are times when it pays to speak up. Indeed, there are times when in order to be true to our values we must speak up and take action. Whenever we see someone being demeaned, bullied, slandered or disregarded we do well to speak up on their behalf.

Less obvious are the moments when we need the wisdom of silence. Silence can do the heavy lifting when we are dealing with intense emotional feelings. Speaking at these moments will often destroy the moment and allow us or our colleague to escape back into the cerebral part of her consciousness.

I have to learn this lesson over and over again. It is hard to let the void exist — instinct tells me to fill the space somehow. Yet some of the most profound moments, some of the deepest work and emotional connections have occurred when I did not succumb to that need to fill the silence.

Problem Solver

I was raised to be a problem solver. To solve most of the problems that came up in my business life required that I ask questions like why, who, what, when, where? These are necessary questions when dealing with coaching, business and consulting challenges. I have been told on more than one occasion that I was hired as a consultant or successful as a manager because I was good at finding out the answers to these questions and able to devise ways to “move us forward.” It’s hard not to play to that perceived strength.

For more than a decade now, in my role as a coach and mentor, I find I’m most often not solving material, external problems but rather helping a friend, colleague or client become more self-aware. It turns out that the usual questions are only good to get us started on the path of silent introspection. Instead of questions that keep us in the executive brain (cerebral cortex) the goal is to get us connected to the limbic system where there is no language.

To Question is the Answer

The leaders I admire most have the wisdom to be much more than problem solvers. They have a way of questioning that makes us think more deeply about values of our decision process, not just an individual decision. They help us to be more self-reliant and raise our emotional intelligence. They are the ones who have the wisdom to let us “twist in the wind” until we find our own strength. They build character instead of simply solving problems.

And on a personal level, I try, not always successfully, to set aside time to be quiet. I silence my own mind as much as possible in order to connect to that deeper meaning, that wisdom within. We all have this deeper consciousness, but rarely take the time to cultivate it in ourselves, much less in others.

As a leader developing other leaders, what do you say and do to help others listen to that small still voice inside? How are you being? Have you stopped to ponder the wisdom of silence?

[Updated 9/16/2017]

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