Why silence really is golden…

29th July 2019

Do you remember the story of the lumberjack in the woods, working with a blunt saw? When a passer-by suggests he sharpens it, the frustrated woodcutter replied, ‘I don’t have time to stop – don’t you see how many trees I’ve got to cut down’.

In a world of constant communication, when we’re busy, rushing, doing, there’s always a temptation to put any time for personal reflection on the proverbial back burner. Who has time for contemplation when competitive pressures are mounting? But the stark reality is this – struggling with a blunt saw, means we risk missing vital opportunities for growth. And that’s not good for us, or for our business.

Just lately, I’ve had more conversations than I’ve ever had before, around the power of silence. Why? Because it allows time for personal reflection. It’s something we do each time we deliver leadership workshops – we pause at the end of each section, to allow time to reflect. This helps hidden gems of ideas to surface and the creation of personal commitments for change. When we start these reflection intervals, some delegates get straight to recording key issues. Others either struggle to get started or don’t seem motivated to.

What I’ve learnt, is that sometimes not intervening can be really powerful. As the silence grows there’s more looking around. More pens get picked up – and, more key learning points start to get written down. The temptation to intervene is to be avoided as silence seems to initiate greater participation.

The value of reflection in helping people to do a better job, is also the conclusion of several studies. Take this one by Harvard Business School. Allocating just 15-minutes reflection time at the end of the day can boost our performance and productivity levels by 23%. Pressing the pause button gives us an opportunity to untangle and sift through what we’ve learnt and observed and what we’re happy with and what we know in our hearts, has to change. These growth and development opportunities are crucial for leaders.

So, if reflection is so valuable, why aren’t more leaders doing it? In my experience, leaders don’t always know how to reflect or even like the process. It means doing things which go against the grain and are unfamiliar. Like slowing down when our natural instinct is towards action and ROI. It also means reflecting on ourselves and observing what’s going on inside and around us – as well as where we’re effective and where we could do better. This can lead to a myriad of uncomfortable feelings, which then becomes a motive to fill the silence.

But, taking time out to reflect on those pesky issues nipping at our ankles can be seriously empowering too – leading to valuable insights, better decisions, quality conversations and some cracking breakthroughs. Surely then, this has to be worth 15-minutes of scheduled thinking time in our calendars.

When we’re performing at razor sharp levels, it’s not only silence that turns into gold.

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