I have always misheard one of the famous lines in Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, as:
“the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, Tiananmen falls.”, rather than as “and tenement halls.”
Just as I have always deeply misunderstood the lyrics of the “Sound of Silence”, so do many leaders constantly misunderstand silence. In fact, many leaders seem to have an underdeveloped , if not estranged relationship with silence.
Most leaders and managers spend their lives in advocacy mode (seeking to be understood) and neglect to step into inquiry (seeking to understand).
Inquiry is predicated on silence and listening, and perhaps a fear of silence is why leaders often prefer to be in advocacy and doing mode.
What is often unappreciated by leaders, is that silence creates an opportunity for its near neighbour, stillness, to arrive. In silence and stillness, a leader can centre and connect to Self. This grounding is what gives us access to our innate resilience.
In my experience as a leadership coach and as a human being, intentionally exposing yourself to what you are thinking and feeling is a daunting challenge.
Why? Silence and stillness allows me to notice my thoughts, including the unconscious beliefs and recurring patterns which often drive my behaviour.
Silence and stillness allow me to become aware of what I am experiencing emotionally – to become aware of what is going on below my neck.
And that isn’t necessarily a comfortable experience.
For me, the journey to self-leadership, i.e. taking responsibility for my world, required me to confront my people-pleasing tendencies, which included a strong desire to constantly be around others, and to accept the sense of loneliness that arose when I opened myself to my thoughts and feelings without numbing or distracting myself with work, my phone, social media, music, food, coffee, or books.
This allowed me to shift from feeling lonely to being alone. It was here that I truly encountered silence for the first time. And made my peace with it.
As I spent time in silence and stillness, I started to notice what was going on in my inner world. And with noticing, came awareness; awareness of the good and the bad feelings I would experience, and which drove my behaviour. It was here that I came to understand Jung’s dictum “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
This is why awareness lies at the heart of emotional intelligence. And why awareness is what allows us to respond rather than react to what is happening around us and inside of us.
By developing the practice of listening, you create the space for silence outside and inside of yourself. In that space of silence, stillness will emerge, which will allow you to notice what is happening inside and outside of you. And when you are aware, you are more likely to be at choice.
How do you create silence and stillness in your life?