There are some lessons we learn the hard way – like not touching a hot stove when you are a child. There are some we accept without having to have it proven – such as not stepping out into traffic. But then there are those lessons that we seem to never quite internalize. One of the lessons I seem to continually need to learn over and over is when to keep my mouth shut.
I am a strong advocate for communications and the power of words. I believe that in most jobs you are hired to have an opinion and speaking your mind, writing words, making presentations and being passionate about what you know is integral to your success.
I also believe that relationships and friendships are stronger when you share thoughts and feelings. And, history has shown that conflicts and wars are not ended through silence but through negotiations and increased understanding.
So I operate from a place of always wanting to talk everything out.
And while for the most part this is a very effective philosophy, there are times when the best thing you can do is know when to stop talking.
I am pretty good at this when it comes to business. When trying to convince clients to take a direction different from the one they are personally connected to, I put forward an alternative and then retreat from the conversation. I have learned that it is important to give people time to mull over a different idea so they can find a way for it to mesh with their mindset. This results in their being more open to further discussion rather than being shut down immediately from pushing too soon.
However, I struggle much more with using silence and distance as a positive tool in personal relationships. Somehow, when it comes to my partner, family and friends, I often forget this concept and, instead of backing off, I say everything that is in my head right away – often making a situation worse than it would have been if I had just counted to 10 – or better yet – 7,200.
When my nine-year old nephew starts to throw a tantrum because the adults are all ignoring him, not taking the bait would be far more productive than my teasing him and getting kicked (literally) as a result. Rather than staying out of it and letting him calm down on his own, I only goad him on into a full-blown frenzy and quickly become the bad Aunt.
When having disagreements with my partner, I push to ‘clear the air’ when really it would be far more prudent to retreat to separate rooms. Rather than giving each other space to let the flames of anger and frustration die down, my push to keep talking only provides further fuel for the fire.
Sometimes putting a conversation on-hold is a far more effective tool for ensuring that what you want to say gets heard. Letting people process information for themselves and giving them time to think can soften and remove some of the emotional quotient that stops people from being open to differing ideas or difficult conversations. And, as I have once again been reminded, in the case of nine-year olds, silence is far less painful.
As the guru Shirdi Sai Baba said “Before you speak, ask yourself: is it kind, is it necessary, is it true,” and most importantly, “does it improve the silence?”