Wise men, when in doubt whether to speak or to keep quiet, give themselves the benefit of the doubt, and remain silent.” ~ Napoleon Hill
A sage individual once commented that there is a reason why we have one mouth and two ears: listening is the better of the two options when you really do not know what you are talking about.
As leaders in schools, many of us are continually re-learning the wisdom that tells us when it’s important to stay quiet. Yet that is what important conversations should strive for – lots of pauses and silence filled with thoughts and ideas. It is easy to understand that there is a discomfort in silence in our noisy world. However, silence is also one of your most important leadership tools.
Aside from the wisdom of Napoleon Hill in the quote above, there are other times when keeping quiet is the best response you can make to someone:
When someone else is talking:
It goes without saying that many of us can get better at allowing another person to have their say. Don’t interrupt. Wait for a pause in the conversation before you speak.
When it’s important to hear other’s viewpoints:
Just at that time when you disagree with someone’s ideas or views and want to counterpoint with speaking your mind, is the best time to stay quiet and hear others out. When there is conflict, there is a better chance of resolution of differences when you don’t talk or judge and switch into deep listening mode. It’s hard, but it’s the right time to stay silent.
When someone is emotionally distraught:
You may not know the right thing to do when someone is sad, upset, or even crying; many of us get uncomfortable at these times. Staying quiet is always acceptable in this case. In such times, people most often want to be heard and to have someone close by. It’s that simple.
When you don’t want to dominate a conversation:
It’s a good time to hold off on your ideas and opinions when people are brainstorming, offering suggestions or being creative. Dominating the conversation with your ideas can shut off the flow of fresh ideas. This is especially true during group thinking/sharing activities in faculty meetings.
When you are thinking together:
Have you ever noticed that when a group is having a great conversation with everyone engaged and offering their thoughts, that silence often occurs? Don’t fill in those gaps in the conversation! Silence, in this case, is the best thing that you can allow to happen for those great conversations to continue. It means people are thinking (exactly what you want them to do!).
The art of knowing when to be quiet (and then doing it) should be a part of every leader’s tool set.