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Put silence on the agenda – for the future’s sake
By Bastian Overgaard, expert in strategic silence

18/03/2019


Bastian Overgaard

Do you believe that the world will be noisier or quieter in the future? I always ask this question when I give talks for leaders and employees. And the answer is the same every time. We expect more noise, more distractions and a higher paced life.

Some may say that we are already living life in the eye of the storm. Information, changes and complexity are flying all around us. Many feel that they can’t lower their guard even for a second. To just take a breath. We are always on our way to the next meeting, the next conclusion or the next digital dopamine kick.

A 3D world with no gaps
The digital world entices with more colours, more High Definition and more 3D. And the louder and faster the music plays, the less influence we have. We’ve dropped immersion, reflection and independent thought in favour of speed and constant stimuli.

And what’s worse, this speed often makes us unaware of the 3D world we already live in. While artificial intelligence makes more decisions for us, entertains us on-demand and helps us to be more efficient, we forget one of the most import elements: the spaces.

We have removed the dramatic pauses that tie history’s greatest masterpieces together. The silence and waiting that once gave us an opportunity to practice patience and concentration no longer exist. Those moments of nothingness, where anything can happen. Even magic. Architects and designers understand the value of “negative space”. But it seems as though the rest of the world has forgotten that “less is more”.

Silence invigorates the mind
According to the WHO, noise is extremely harmful to our health – both physical and mental. At the same time, studies show that silence

  • reduces stress,
  • improves memory,
  • boosts learning and
  • strengthens our ability to make good decisions.

 
But how do we make room for silence in our noisy lives? Most of us have heard about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. But meditation and living mindfully generally requires a strong will – especially when the world around you is speeding by at 200 kilometres an hour. Many employees are simply thrown into meditation courses with the expectation that they can now handle pressure: “You can’t just sit down and meditate if you’re stressed out.”

This is where the concept of silent co-creation comes in. When you are silent with others, there is no need for meditation. The simple act of being with others without speaking creates a free space for calm, immersion and inner silence. When silence is created as a group, you are automatically held firmly by the social context and don’t need to depend on your own willpower and self-discipline. This lifts the burden off your shoulders.

Fatal noise trap impedes high performance
A natural place to co-create “intelligent spaces” is in our meetings. We are already gathered in a social context to exchange knowledge, think strategically and make decisions.

Linguistics experts Grosjean and Deschamps said as early as in 1975: “The more complex the communicative task, the greater the number of pauses.” But what would happen if you held a nice long dramatic pause in a meeting? Most likely, someone else would begin speaking.

In many of the businesses and organisations I visit, you only have to stop to take a breath to be interrupted. And when our meetings become battles for speaking time, then we get caught in another fatal noise trap. We forget to listen to each other. We lose respect, intimacy and trust in each other – all crucial factors for high-performance teams. Studies conducted at tech-giant Google reveal that the best-performing teams have an equal distribution of speaking time, while the collective intelligence falls dramatically in the teams where the same people talk all the time.

Silence reduces complexity and cuts meeting length in half
This is why the “pauses” should be facilitated and agreed on as a group. Starting with 1 minute of silence gives participants a chance to settle down and find their focus more quickly on the topic of the meeting. Silence can help to provide a moment for reflection after discussing an item on the agenda. And before making decisions, you should always allow 1-2 minutes for everyone to gather their thoughts before the first and loudest person begins talking.

Silence gives people time to organise their thoughts before speaking. It removes much of the complexity we can otherwise cause for ourselves with superfluous talking. Experiences from Danish businesses show that when silent co-creation is systematically facilitated, everyone gets an opportunity to speak. And in many places, it is possible to cut meeting lengths by up to 50%, because the unnecessary noise is simply cut out.

The future is noisy, and now more than ever, we need to cut through the complexity. We can’t do anything about much of the noise we are subjected to. But we can reduce the noise we create ourselves. So: Be quiet. Just once in a while. And do it together – for the future’s sake.

About Bastion Overgaard:
Bastian Overgaard is a consultant, instructor and speaker on silence in businesses and organisations. His mission is to reduce the noise in meetings between people through strategic silence. Read more about Bastian here