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When Silence is Golden

As with many proverbs, the origin of “silence is golden” is not definite. The first example of it in the English language was apparently from the poet Thomas Carlyle who translated the phrase from German in Sartor Resartus in 1831. In that translation, silence was compared to speech – “speech is silver, silence is golden”. In an effort to become masterful in managing conflict I thought it may be an idea to consider how this expression may apply.

Being present and listening to what the other person is saying goes a long way in any circumstance. It is especially critical when we are in conflict. This is for many reasons, not the least of which is experiencing the value of curiosity and the possibility of learning something we don’t know. That is, though we may not always like what we hear, remaining silent as the other person talks through her or his views helps us to gain clarity on assumptions we are making and to gain perspectives we may not have. Silence is golden at these times.

This is not to say ‘do not talk’. It does however, suggest listening to where the other person is coming from before speaking, judging, casting aspersions, or operating primarily on what we perceive but do not know for sure. Likewise when we silently listen and demonstrate we are open to hearing and understanding, we model an approach that acknowledges the other person has something important to say and inherently requests to be heard for what we too have to offer.

When is silence not golden, you may ask? When it is used as a way to ignore, avoid, dismiss, or put down the other person. The ‘silent treatment’, as it has been referred to, can create negative reactions and does not serve a positive purpose when it comes to conflict.

When answering the questions for this week’s blog, consider a conflict in which silence may have been a preferable choice to what you said during a conflict:

  • What did you say that you would like to take back?
  • What specifically did you say that you observed the other person react to?
  • How do you describe her or his reaction?
  • How may being silent have been more beneficial?
  • What was the challenge for you about using silence – instead of speaking?
  • When others are silent while you talk, how does that impact you?
  • How may you end this sentence – “When I am silent I fear…”?
  • And how may you finish this sentence – “When I am silent I feel as though…”?
  • When you are being conflict masterful, what do you think talking achieves that silence doesn’t?
  • When you are being conflict masterful, what do you think silence achieves that talking doesn’t?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

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