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Silence has something to teach us

If you’ve been listening to the world around you, then you know there’s been a collective rallying cry for more listening. Professionally and politically, calls for active listening, for demonstrating empathy abound.

But listen up, friends. Listening is absolutely critical. We need to do more of it. But also, sometimes, we need to hit pause. Because we can’t forget that listening is a means to an end. We do it not just to be lovely and kind, but to find insight, to discover new ways, new ideas, to curate a collective of intelligence bigger than the sum of its parts.

And this discovery — this finding of the insight in all we’ve heard — requires periods of silence.

We are like sponges. But sponges eventually saturate. And must be squeezed.

It’s 2022 and I’m ostensibly an HR person. So no, I’m not suggesting you squeeze anyone or thing. But I am asking you to note when your mind may be saturated. And it might be time to step out of listening and into a period of silence.

I’ve asked you to ask your teams for input — to hear them, to be present, to engage.

And now, I ask you to step back. To walk into the liminal space of reflection, of processing, of reviewing what’s been said, and determining what you’ve heard. This is where you discover, define — you find the fuel for your action plan.

For today, hit pause on listening and reflect on all you’ve taken in.

Maybe you keep hearing from team members, “This is the third time I’ve asked Finance for that report and I’m still waiting.” But in silence you realize, “I need to talk to my counterpart heading up Finance so we can align on how our teams can collaborate with less friction and more efficiency.”

Maybe you’ve been hearing, “Here are my updates on projects X, Y, Z, A, B and C,” but on reflection, you realize, “Wow — that’s a LOT of projects my team is juggling.”

They might be saying, “Would it be OK if I tried presenting the data in this new way versus our traditional format?” But in the silence, you hear them saying, “I don’t feel empowered to try something new without asking permission first.”

If you’ve been on a listening tour, I applaud you. You’re showing up, you’re demonstrating commitment to your team, you’re creating connection.

But now, it’s time to step back and enjoy a few moments of silence.