Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.— Benjamin Franklin
Speak only when it benefits myself or others?
It seems strange to hold one’s tongue, especially in the modern-day. We live in a culture where talk and chit-chat are common place and it is possible to have endless conversations about nothing at all for hours at a time.
There are multiple benefits to embracing silence as a virtue however.
When we practise silence, we are also practising active and meaningful listening. We are really hearing what others say, and trying to understand them better. We are not just waiting for our turn to speak, but are also able to empathise.1We also realise just how much people like to talk about themselves.
What Is Silence?
There are many aspects to silence.
Benjamin Franklin’s silence
Benjamin Franklin’s silence is the classic definition that can be taken literally — there is no need to be constantly talking.
When we speak, it should be with impact.
We should not be chattering away for the sake of it.
And it is perfectly fine to have silence set into conversations. You can just say nothing, smile and look at the other person expectantly. More often than not, they will fill that void by saying something.
This lets you practise the virtue of silence, and grants you a certain control over conversations.
Most of us have internal dialogue running through our heads.
This is our inner voice that speaks with us.2Or in some cases, to us.
Sometimes this inner voice is helpful, sometimes it is critical.
What if we could ask our inner voices to also practise silence?
There is a simple NLP technique that helps with this.
Imagine a volume dial for your inner voice. Turn it clockwise to increase the volume, turn it anticlockwise to decrease the volume.
This grants you control over your inner voice and when you want to hear it, and this is valuable.
Over time, you can add in switches and sliders to change the qualities of your inner voice.
You can make it funny. You can make it smooth. You can make it husky. You can make it sound like Morgan Freeman or Julie Andrews.
And this changes what your inner voice says, and means to you.
Silence is more than just what we say and how we speak to ourselves.
It is also how others speak to us.
Unfortunately, we live in a noisy world. We have tweets, DMs, emails and more coming at us all hours of the day.
Benjamin Franklin didn’t have an iPhone, but he was onto something.
There is no need to hear the constant chattering of others across our social networks all day.
And the easiest way to do this is to simply not use them as much as we currently do. Do not disturb should be the default on our devices.
We’ve popularised this idea as a “social media detox” but it really is just the practice of the virtue of silence.
The Benefits of Silence
Silence leads to focus and a better clarity of thought.
With fewer inputs comes reduced processing and clearer outputs.
You’ll also automatically have better listening skills, which means you’ll have better social skills.
If we combine these benefits together, we become smarter and more intelligent people.
It’s perfectly OK to just listen and not speak — you don’t have to have an opinion about any given thing.
Contrast this with most people who have an opinion about everything.
When you do speak, your silence will lend what you say a tone of gravitas and authority — and this will be earned, as you will have given thought to what you have to say.
Practising Silence Daily
Like other virtues, practising silence daily is simply a matter of asking yourself:
Have I lived with silence today?
I have said only what needed to be said, when it benefited myself or others?
Have I avoided mundane small talk and the voicing of opinions with little substance behind them?
A System for Silence
Silence is a mindset.
It begins with accepting that it is fine to speak little or not at all on a given day.
Can you go an entire day without speaking to or messaging anyone?
This will prove uncomfortable at first.
And are you OK with silence from your social media, news, feeds and devices?
You also want to practise internal silence, by quieting your inner voices.
And when you do meet others, practise holding back your opinion and letting others speak. Give your opinions if warranted, but see if you can get away with just listening.
The Silent Cockpit
The virtue of silence is also the foundation of the silent cockpit technique.
The silent cockpit is a term from aviation where pilots practise silence during takeoff and landing, as those are when the most errors and accidents occur during a flight.3Technically it’s called the Sterile Cockpit and prohibits all non-essential activities during critical parts of flights.
Applied to our own lives, we can carve out part of our day as a “silent cockpit”, usually in the morning.
We simply remove all our distractions and focus on the task at hand, in silence, enjoying the focus and clarity that it brings.
What To Do Next
Silence is a virtue that lives alongside other virtues like focus, volition and taking action.
You can read more about those virtues here. But for now, embrace silence.
- We also realise just how much people like to talk about themselves.
- Or in some cases, to us.
- Technically it’s called the Sterile Cockpit and prohibits all non-essential activities during critical parts of flights.
Photos by HARALD PLIESSNIG, Mike Russell, Keegan Houser, Chris Leipelt.