What a magical experience!
I was still thinking about it and smiling to myself in delight, some ten minutes or so later, as I ambled across the old wooden bridge that spanned the little creek meandering through the woods.
The appearance of that great tit and the harmonic notes it had belted out right in front of me was a wondrous occurrence that added something to my walk, something inexplicable and sublime.
It was particularly noteworthy because it was the second such gift I had enjoyed that morning.
Just a few minutes before, I’d had the good fortune to encounter another solitary bird, one that was just as much a virtuoso performer. Seeing the robin so close by had stopped me in my tracks. It skipped a few steps along the tree branch, pecking at something I couldn’t quite make out. Then it stopped, seemed to look directly at me, then puffed out its beautiful reddish-orange breast before breaking into song with a short melody.
I congratulated myself at the double blessing of two private concerts by two spectacular birds. And it got me musing about the number “2”, and how our life is so filled with the duality it represents – so many things with two aspects to them or two contrasting elements: good and bad, night and day, pleasure and pain, right and wrong, fast and slow, love and hate, …
This ever-present dualism is probably most pronounced in our everyday lives in the contrast between the words we use when we speak and the silence we experience when we don’t speak.
Words are tremendously powerful, whether they are expressed in the mind, spoken with the tongue, written with the pen or typed with a keyboard.
Words carry energy that can bring joy or misery, can evoke laughter or tears, can lift people up or tear them down. Sweet words of love by lyricists and crooners like Barry White have led to the creation of many new little humans all over the world. And poisonous words of hate by tyrants and evil zealots have led to the destruction of millions of human lives through the ages. Because words transmit impact.
So it’s crucial to watch your choice of words in everyday conversations – with yourself, and with colleagues and stakeholders at work.
Always remember that the words you use in your mind or your self-talk paint and shape your “reality”, ultimately.
You’re also adding hues of colour and configuration to your stakeholders’ reality when you interact with them. Try to communicate in plain language using terms they’ll comprehend, rather than boring or irritating them with jargon or using gobbledygook they might not understand.
It’s equally vital to notice stakeholders’ choice and use of words.
Some people use lots of words without really saying anything meaningful. Sometimes, it’s because they like the sound of their own voice, or they want to look good in front of others, or they want to show they’re smarter than you, or they have nothing concrete to say but would rather not show it. Sometimes people are just nervous, suffering the effects of too much caffeine or they may simply be over-talkative by nature and unable to curb their verbal diarrhoea.
Some folks use the act of talking to form their thoughts, shape their opinions or gain clarity on their views. Hence, they’re quite likely to appreciate the time and space to get their words out in the way they want to.
Some use their words for personal attacks, and you can become ensnared in the drama that follows if you lose your composure or react with anger, perhaps by counterattacking them or becoming defensive or argumentative, which often exacerbates the situation and sidetracks you from your core purpose.
Others will use few or no words, keeping their thoughts and opinions to themselves, despite your efforts to engage them. They may be taciturn by nature. Or they may be the sort of political animal who’s just watching, not wanting to take sides or show their hand; maybe because they’re waiting to see how the wind blows, then they’ll jump on the bandwagon and be more forthcoming with their words.
And some stakeholders use specific words in very deliberate ways to help or to hinder. For example, to bring knowledge or simplicity as a positive contribution, or to create confusion or obfuscation for their own underhand reasons – reasons which may include intentionally concealing their unhelpful behaviours by weaving a camouflage with their words.
Trying to decode people’s words requires sincere listening, giving them your full attention as if they’re the centre of your world. It’s a great doorway to reading people better and sensing their true sentiments.
An added payback is that a stakeholder who feels they’ve been listened to will very likely give you good airtime for your own pitch. Whereas a stakeholder who feels otherwise is unlikely to be attentive to your gist. And there’s no point telling your story if your audience isn’t tuned in.
You’re more likely to attune someone you’re interacting with if you first listen attentively to them, so you can choose and package your own words to resonate with them.
This isn’t just about what you say. Just like your stakeholders and everyone else, your non-verbal communication or body language accounts for well over fifty percent of your communication. How you say it can be as important as, if not more important than, what you say.
When we speak, things like our posture, facial expressions, gestures and tone of voice convey more than we may be aware of, and may transmit what we don’t intend to communicate. Yet it can be far worse or better when we don’t speak at all.
Knowing when and how to speak and when and how to be silent is a cornerstone of communicating effectively with others, and more importantly, with ourselves.
Silence, at the right moments, even if just a brief pause, is a potent communication device that can sometimes achieve more than words. It also helps us listen better and retain more of what is being transmitted to us – whether the transmitter is a stakeholder at work, a loved one at home or the sage within us. So our chances of capturing and benefitting from every morsel of the communication to us increases significantly.
It’s easy to be fooled into thinking that silence is empty.
Silence is a vessel of wisdom.
It’s in silence that we hear the call of the dreams of our hearts clearer and louder. A call that steers us to our destiny, if we have the courage and confidence to answer it.
It’s in silence that we fully perceive and comprehend what people are truly communicating to us, especially the stuff between the words, stuff that remains unspoken and often holds more insight than the words themselves.
It’s in silence that we’re perfectly able to distinguish between words and other perceptions that are merely “noise” and those that hold valuable truths, understanding and wisdom.
And it’s in silence that we appreciate the criticality of not succumbing to the seduction of perceptions that hold no value, like empty, meaningless words; words which may be expressed by others or by ourselves.
Silence enables and empowers us to filter out the worthless and meaningless stuff, the noise.
And whenever we’re able to fade out the noise, even if only momentarily, we harness perhaps the greatest virtue of silence: perceiving the gigantic river of knowledge in us with clarity, a river from which we can drink infinitely to leverage a knowledge beyond reason. Each sip of the drink helps expose our best self and expands our capabilities, including our ability to shape and configure the right string of words; words which then create our desired impact by accurately conveying what we truly wish to transmit – whether the receiver is a stakeholder at work, a loved one at home or our authentic self.
’Funny how silence can lead us to finding and using the right words. And actions. And choices.