Why does silence make us so uncomfortable?

The power of staying silent

Last week I started to explore the role of timing when it comes to discipline. Often, we tend to teach/discipline/impose our brilliance in the worst possible moments. We are too emotionally charged and our kids are too emotionally charged up to hear us. Which has me thinking about the beauty and power of staying silent.

As a teacher, one of the best practices is allowing adequate time for students to respond. Increased wait time is especially helpful for kids with language deficits or processing delays. However, after listening to a podcast last night, I am reminded how important wait time, or silence, is for everyone. So why does silence make us so uncomfortable? Why does silence make us squirm or incessantly talk?

We talk too much

Especially when I have my parent hat on, I talk way too much. When all it really takes is, “Stop. Hands to self,” I often find myself saying some version of: Stop putting your hands on your sister. I’ve asked you time and time again and you continue to push your sister. What are you thinking? Your sister didn’t get hurt this time but remember yesterday when you did that and she fell?

While I’m still digging deep on why I do this, I think it’s because I feel that saying more is going to really drive my point home. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s as if I am waiting for my kids to respond with: You know what mom? I’m so glad you just gave me that lengthy reminder. That is exactly what I needed to develop self control. Never, ever again will you see my hands on my sister. Thanks for the life changing lecture! Shockingly, this still has yet to happen.

Why we give advice

I listened to Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast when she interviewed Michael Bungay Stanier. My favorite episodes are when the content can be applied to everything – job, parenting, sports, friends, and most importantly, work I need to do on myself. Stanier explores how we give advice which has challenged me in all the best ways. How do I give advice to my kids, my students, my friends, my family and myself? Am I taking on the role of rescuer which is making someone else a victim? Is it about my ego? So much food for thought.

On the episode, Stanier and Brown engage in a role play and it’s evident just how powerful silence can be. Stanier notes that silence makes lots of people uncomfortable, himself included. However, constant chatter also dilutes others’ ability to think. I know when others are chirping at me, I am either not listening or not thinking; I certainly can’t do both well. Here I am thinking I am being helpful when I constantly talk to my kids. In reality, I am undermining the very thing I want my kids to do – think/reflect on their actions.

The gift of silence

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl

It always comes back to Viktor Frankl. That space between stimulus and response. Before we can offer the gift of silence to those around us, we have to find it ourselves. We must… stop talking. Which is really hard for me. Stimulus, RESPONSE!! Spilled yogurt drink, lions – everywhere. Sand dumped out of your shoes on the floor? Freak out. Before I can dream of offering silence to others, I have to find a moment of silence in my own head. Find that second to breath. To take control of myself. (And I say my kids need to work on self control – ha!)

Only then can I offer this gift to those around me. Only then can I be the leader my kids need me to be. Only then can I truly listen, empower others, and put my own ego aside. Strainer says, “We like giving advice because it makes us feel good, it makes us feel smarter, it makes us feel in control, it makes us feel that we’re the people who are serving everyone around us, it strokes a lot of ego.” – guilty! He goes on to say it’s not about never giving advice. It’s about not giving reactive advice.

Discipline and Advice

Discipline and advice are not exactly the same. However, both are times that I know I talk too much. Whether my kids are coming to me for advice or I am coming to them to teach them, I want them thinking. And me talking too much will hinder their ability to process and think. Strainer also mentioned in the episode that  “…the first challenge that someone brings to you is rarely the real challenge.” I think this is just as true for ourselves as it is for our kids.

Perhaps we should all take advice from Aaron Burr from the incredible musical Hamilton, and simply talk less, smile more.

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