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Are You Afraid of Silence?

A little post about letting yourself breathe.
Jan | 14 | 2011

Jan | 14 | 2011

In the amazingly poignant song “I Drive The Hearse” by Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson sings:

And silence is another way
Of saying what I wanna say

Beyond making a statement, I often wonder why people fear silence. Sometimes, a conversation just needs time to breathe. Lamentably, some people just don’t understand this.

Ummms and Ahlhs

A few weeks ago, I listened to a salesperson to give a demo of his product over the web. Understandably, he was excited about his company’s product. (What salesperson isn’t?) I get passion, believe me. Yet, in between changing screens and slides, natural gaps were filled with “ahhh’s” and “ummm’s.”

You’ll come across as more intelligent and effective if you use silence.

I’m probably a bit touchy about this, but I know that I’m not alone. Scott Berkun makes a similar point in his excellent book, Confessions of a Public Speaker (affiliate link).

A few days later, I was hounded by a nice but far too effusive author about potential collaboration opportunities. I became less and less interested as he detailed to me his entire webinar schedule for 2011, going so far as to rewind he moved right from February to April, accidentally skipping March.

Simon Says

Embrace silence. I’m not talking about two minute gaps in the conversation. That’s just plain creepy. Try recording yourself talking for even three minutes straight. Are you bored yet? Do you hear any pauses? Or do you use fillers?

Trust me: You’ll come across as more intelligent if you use silence.


What say you?


Blog E Communication E Are You Afraid of Silence?

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  1. Ivana Taylor

    Being a child of the 80’s I have to reference the Depeche Mode song “Enjoy the Silence” 🙂
    There must be something in our DNA that leaves us feeling uncomfortable when there is silence.  It must be the difference between deliberate silence and silence that is a result of not being prepared or comfortable with what you have to say.
    I once had a coach that said – whatever you do don’t sell anything – just have a conversation that you’re passionate about.  And in that context – well placed silence has a home.

  2. Fernando

    Didn’t someone wise once say: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt”

  3. philsimon

    Love it, Fernando!

    @ivana – Wow, a Depeche Mode reference. Great stuff, guys.

  4. Steve Putman

    Paraphrasing the guys in King Crimson, “The music isn’t the notes themselves, but the spaces between the notes.” Personally, I’m always looking for exactly the right spaces…
    – SP

  5. Marcus Sheridan-The Sales Lion

    Great little read Phil. What’s the deal with silence anyway? Why are we all so dang afraid of it. When we occasional shut up and actually look into the eyes of the person(s) we are speaking with, we’ll often times learn way more than we did simply blabbing away. Well said .

  6. Stacey Cornelius

    We’re on information overload these days. Anything that comes at me in a barrage gets tuned out. Doesn’t matter if it’s audio, in person, or in writing.
    Pauses in a conversation are like white space on a page (or screen). It gives me time to process. It respects my intelligence.
    Most important,  it shows confidence. Yapping at someone is often a thin mask for insecurity, or worse, an attempt to disguise a poor quality offer.
    Nicely done, as always, Phil.

  7. philsimon

    Great conversation, all. It’s amazing how smart you can appear when you pause, use shorter sentences, and stop talking!

  8. Jim Harris

    Umm…Ahh…Excellent post, Phil 🙂

    I definitely agree with you, but I have to admit that I struggle with practicing it.

    Growing up in Boston, I developed the regional tendency of talking too fast. So although I try to suppress umms and ahhs with the comforting sound of silence, when I do start talking again, I have a tendency to speak too quickly, which to Stacey’s point, doesn’t come across well.

    So, pauses and shorter sentences are key, but I think that obeying a conversational speed limit is also essential.

    Best Regards,


  9. Fernando

    My wife posted this on her FB  wall  today  and I thought it would be appropriate for this thread:  ‎”Before you speak, think – Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” ~ Sri Sathya Sai Baba

  10. philsimon

    I absolutely love that! I’m going to have to borrow it.


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