• Anish Hindocha

Experiment #9 - Getting comfortable with silence

My latest experiment is long overdue. I had committed to doing one experiment a month, and I needed two attempts over 4 months on this one.

To recap. This series of 30 day experiments began last year. Each one has me using myself as an improvement project to discover better approaches and keep focussed. My first experiment was to post on LinkedIn every day for 30 days. Since then I've covered other experiments such as meditation, exercising daily, being present with my kids and a fair few others. You can read about them all on my website. www.jigsawconsulting.co.uk/30dayexperiment.



Experiment (#9) was all around the use of Silence. And more specifically my fear of it. Yes that's right. I'm outright scared of silence. Which is a fair old admission when you facilitate teams as part of your work, and where the power of silence can be an ally, and not something to run away from.


I ought to clarify at this point, that I have no issue with silence when I am alone. I can enjoy nothing more than my own thoughts for a 2 hour walk, never a problem. It's when silence exists between me and someone else that I get uncomfortable. I have a temptation to fill the void. To continue talking. To repeat what was last said to reassure them that I was listening. When it's actually me that possibly needs the reassurance. In short, silence in conversation spooks me. And I wanted to find out why.

So over 30 days, I vowed to do the opposite of breaking the silence. I wanted to encourage it once a day. To give it a chance to breathe, to see the effect it has on me. And on others. Through the experiment, I gradually noticed more comfort with silence.
My experiment was awkward to begin with. Almost forced. A keen outside observer might say 'too intentional'.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate that.


i) Someone called me for a chat about mentoring. Towards the end of our audio only phone call, I remember saying "I hoped our conversation helped". I might have not made any intonation this was a question and I then paused.


I waited for an answer that never came. 8 seconds...9 seconds...10, and then to my relief, she came back with "Hello.....Are you still there?" :-)


ii) On a separate occasion, I made a suggestion to someone about changing the format of their podcast. And when he went silent, I rushed in with an extra explanation. He retorted back saying "I'm thinking. You've said something. So when I go quiet, I'm just digesting, you need to give me a moment". Oops

So what's going on here exactly?

Maybe I equate silence with "inaction" and I just want to move stuff forward.

More likely I'm afraid of what it represents: rejection, disagreement, or aggression?

Who knows but I was determined to skip past the awkwardness and get underneath this.

By Day 8 or 9, like any habit it's becoming noticeably easier. I'm tuning in to when to use it. After a question that's been posed. Or when offering an opposing point of view. Or when in a Sales Call and saying nothing after the price has been mentioned. I was getting used to the lull.

Around half way through this experiment, what I was really noticing was a pattern emerging of conversations being like a slow rally in a game of tennis. I'm hitting a ball over the net, I wait, it comes back, sometimes with force, sometimes with a curve ball,, sometimes unexpectedly. What's interesting is how the use of silence helps the conversation. Yes, we sometimes serve into the net as discussion hits a dead end, but we rarely stray outside the court . There's an awareness of pulling firmly back to the central point being discussed. It is essentially the art of facilitation. Even in a 1 to 1 setting. And daily practice is very powerful as a reminder to keep doing it.


As with all my experiments I offer 5 Learnings in case they help others


1. Reflect and Track it.

If you are a fellow sufferer, you will need to consciously go into conversations thinking about this experiment and then use pauses deliberately. It will feel awkward as your default position is to fill the gap. Try not to. You will fail. Often. But keep going. And record brief notes afterwards to describe how you felt.




2. Count to 5...Sometimes 10

Counting to 5 in your head or even 10 seconds is good practice. You get accustomed to the pauses, and whilst I'm not entirely comfortable, I know the recipient may appreciate the pause more than me.


3. Design it in your work

If your work involves facilitating others, it's often an idea to shut up as described in this excellent article by Gustavo Razzetti. I now design time in training where I encourage people to switch off videos and take 5 minutes to reflect on an activity. What comes out the other side is often more powerful and more considered.


4. Don't interrupt

Don't talk over the other person. Give them the court. Don't try and assume which direction the tennis ball might be coming at you from. It's a rarity these days to enter into a conversation without interruption. Be the person to provide the setting for it. This article in the Guardian is well worth a read.


5. Respect its power

Respecting the power of silence Silence forces you to listen. Really listen. I often gained far more from a conversation by talking less and allowing the person to provide more information. Particularly useful on sales calls. Sometimes they will tie themselves up in knots but that's ok. You know that place too, and can help them untangle if necessary

In summary I started this experiment to better understand why I was afraid of silence. And it may come to more than one fear. But rejection stands out amongst them. There's this fear I have of others thinking less of me, or that I might have offended them in some way. I rush to close the gap. And assume the worst far too often. I'm a work in progress, and I'm acutely aware that this experiment has been one of the most painful to write, as it is so revealing. And yet for all of that, perhaps because of that, I'm here thoroughly recommending that others try a 30 Day Experiment in Silence also.


About the#30dayexperiment


#30dayexperiment is a project I created to better myself, stay disciplined, whilst I pursue a long term goal of creating a business that I am passionate about.

It is now a programme available to anyone wanting to improve focus and discipline. Go to www.jigsawconsulting.co.uk/30day or message me to find out more.

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