The Power Within Silence

May 29, 2017

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”    –Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator and author.

In order to be successful communicators we must first be successful listeners. Last month I attended the Sauder School of Business’ Unlimited Leadership conference. Darrell Kopke, former Lululemon General Manager and Kit and Ace CEO, spoke about how important it is for leaders to really listen.

We are all guilty of it:

Your co-worker is telling you about her recent trip to Hawaii and suddenly you remember a story from your trip to Mexico last spring that completely relates! You are like a cat stalking a mouse, waiting excitedly for your chance to pounce. While you wait, you are not actually focused on the story being told but instead listening for your own opportunity to speak.

This is not actively listening.

Your partner is telling you about his/her day at work and you are scrolling through your social media and screening emails while also watching the hockey game.

This is not actively listening either.

Actively listening, as Darrell Kopke described, is making the other person feel heard. When someone is talking to you, it is not about what you are getting out of the conversation, it is about satisfying the speaker’s need to be understood.

Imagine if you were speaking to someone about a project that was proposed to go through your backyard, or about land that had belonged to your family for generations and carried immense sentimental value which was about to be developed. At the very least, you would want to be heard. You would want to be understood.

At Communica listening is one of the most vital components of what we do. To best serve our clients we must first understand what they want, and how that relates to the wants and needs of others. The importance of listening to others applies to all engagement scenarios: a project open house, a conference, a meeting with Chief and Council, or any other landscape in which we operate. Actively listening means not only allowing engagement participants to express their thoughts and concerns but actually being an engaged listener. As consultants and communication professionals, actively listening is our duty.

Listening is one of the necessary components of communication. Another key component is relaying our own message. Often when it is our turn to be the speaker, we are completely focused on the verbal aspect of sharing our views. In reality, verbal communication is a very small fraction of what communication encompasses. The majority of a message – 93% is the commonly used statistic – is delivered through nonverbal means.

With nonverbal means being the major transmitter of a message, the importance of first impressions is magnified. Forbes magazine states that first impressions can be made within the first seven seconds of meeting someone. First impressions, especially in engagement are exceedingly important. They remain with us for lengthy periods and can be difficult to overcome.

In our line of work we might only get one shot at building a relationship and it can be difficult to make a strong first impression. Within seven seconds of meeting someone, it is unlikely you are going to able to share a fascinating story, an insightful remark or communicate all the necessary information about a project, but your body language says it all. So adjust your attitude (yes people can pick up on this in 7 seconds!), straighten your posture, make eye contact, raise your eyebrows in acknowledgment , shake hands, lean in slightly and smile!

Body language is the global language. It speaks without words and accounts for the majority of our conversations. As digital communication grows, it is imperative that we remember how to have face-to-face conversations. Social media has increased the ways we can communicate but it has also allowed the importance of nonverbal communication to be swept under the rug. Online, we are bombarded with information and it is easy to bring those blinders into our reality.

Moving forward I challenge you to listen, to really truly listen to what those around you have to say, to be aware of your body language and realize the importance of nonverbal communication. There is power within silence and how we choose to handle silence directly reflects how well we communicate.