Let Silence do the Heavy Lifting

The Wisdom of Silence

Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership, 3-LI

The Heavy Lifting

There are times when it pays to speak up. Indeed, there are times when we must speak up and take action to be true to our values. Whenever we see someone being demeaned, bullied, slandered, or disregarded, we 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 her consciousness’s cerebral part.

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. Some of the most profound moments, some of the most in-depth work, and emotional connections occur when I do not succumb to that need to fill the silence.

Problem Solver

Life taught me to be a problem solver. I solved most of the issues in my business life by asking why, who, what, when, and where? These are necessary questions when dealing with coaching, business, or consulting challenges. Clients have shared with me on more than one occasion that they hired me as a consultant or as a manager because I was good at finding out the answers to these questions and was 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. Instead, I am helping a friend, colleague, or client to become more self-aware. It turns out that the usual questions are only useful 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 connect 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, our decision process, and not just individual decisions. 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 strength. They build character instead of merely solving problems.

And on a personal level, I try, not always successfully, to set aside time to be quiet. I silence my mind as much as possible to connect to that more profound 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 Lightly edited in 10/2020 for our new website.]