Conversation Tip #7: Appreciate silence

Accept–and enjoy–the inevitability of silence!

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

-Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher

Many Americans feel uncomfortable with silence, even on crowded elevators or standing in lines with strangers. Some Americans also feel uncomfortable with pauses or periods of silence in conversations.

Pauses in conversation occur frequently, and often naturally. When first meeting new people, students may feel inclined to always fill up the conversation. Sometimes these causal chit-chats fill the space with a smile and good feelings. Though these attempts have good intentions, silence should also not be feared! Silence is sometimes natural. Silence can be a natural part of conversation, letting the speakers take a break and reflect. No one expects the conversation to flow endlessly–nor would this necessarily be desired!

When the conversation stops at a natural part, students can take the time to reflect on whether to add on to what has been said, transition into a new topic or let the other person decide the flow of conversation. The length of a pause also matters. If there seems to be nothing left to say, a question functions as a smooth transition–as long as it is somewhat relevant and within the boundaries of the relationship! And sometimes silence indicates it’s time to close the conversation

How do your students feel about silence in conversation? How do you feel about pauses and some silence in daily conversations?

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Jessica Lu, a first-year student at the University of Chicago, interned for Chimayo Press and the Compelling Conversations blog through the summer of 2014. Over the months, she has perused ESL textbooks, analyzed newspaper articles and tested out mobile apps, seeking out ways to inspire discussion. In the fall of 2014, the Compelling Conversations blog published her top 10 tips to create compelling conversations outside of the English classroom.

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