I opened the door to the hall and it felt as cavernous as the Mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings. Paul was a huge man, but he looked tiny from the far corner of the room, where he was perched behind a great oak desk. The door creaked shut behind me and I started to make my way across the room – the silence was unnerving. I knew that the situation was unusual and unique. Why wasn’t he talking? He wasn’t working or reading; instead he was just staring at me as I moved towards his direction. After what seemed like an eternity I reached the oak desk and waited to be asked to take a seat. Still Paul said nothing, but his eyes told me to park my arse, which I did.
Then I waited…and waited…and waited. Minutes passed like hours and still Paul did not say anything except stare right into me. Finally, he broke the silence, “I bet that was difficult for you Davy. I bet you were dying to speak weren’t you?” I knew instinctively that I needed to shut up and let him speak – something that did not come naturally to me. Paul told me that the purpose of the meeting was to inform me that the company was changing it’s hiring and firing policy. Only applicants, whose name was on a special list, would be considered for senior positions within the company. He wanted me to be on that list, because the people who created it believed I had the ability and potential to be a Director of the company. I even had a specific job that I was being groomed to one-day take over. But there was one condition.
Words like violence, break the silence, come crashing in, into my little world – Martin Gore
Paul created the silence to prove a point to me. He knew I had talent but felt that I was immature and liked the sound of my own voice too much. He told me that I needed to show more maturity and more professionalism in my approach. He told me that silence should be my new friend and that I should choose my words more selectively. I remember that his words irritated me. I felt that I was being judged because I was young. I remember believing that I could have fun, talk a lot and still get my work done to a high standard – I was wrong. I hated the silence that engulfed the room on that day. My words were going mad, inside my mind, and it took every ounce of strength I had to keep my mouth shut. In order to avoid situations like this, my mind is continually thinking of things to say. Often these things have no relevance – air fillers if you will.
Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm – Martin Gore
From that day onwards I started to learn to befriend silence. Whether or not it was a short pause or a deep breath, little by little I started to get used to it. The more I got used to it, the more comfortable I became. There is an obvious correlation between talking too much and avoiding silence – you become an ineffective listener. I believe that my impulse to talk and my fear of silence contributed to my inept ability to listen, which in turn affected my relationships and my ability to effectively lead people.
Words are meaningless and forgettable – Martin Gore
Understanding is a great thing, as is the ability to admit you were wrong. I am learning that silence is vital…silence is my friend. It allows others to grow and become more confident in my presence. It affords me respect, and it allows my ears to work so I can listen to others instead of worrying about creating words to idly spew into the air.
I am learning to enjoy the silence.
How are you affected by silence? Are you comfortable with it or fear it like I used to?
I have a list in my Wunderlist app called Needy Helper Blog Posts, and some time ago I wrote the words Paul Silence – Blog Post. Then this evening I was lying in my hotel room in Copenhagen, Denmark and I decided to go through my Google reader for 30-mins before trying to sleep. I read this post by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits called Learn to Sit Alone in a Quiet Empty Room and it reminded me of my story about Paul.
After 30-mins of reading I tried to fall to sleep, but a combination of heat, the scary wind battering my window and a head full of stories created an impossibility. So I flicked on the lamp, grabbed my laptop and started typing this post. I am now suitably tired so I am going to go to sleep and enjoy the silence in a different way.