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Silence as an Introvert Advantage
Silences create space in ways that favor and delight introverts.
Decades ago as a freelance writer interviewing sources for magazine articles, I learned the valuable tactic of asking a provocative question, then shutting up. Because many people feel compelled to fill silence with whatever comes to mind, keeping my mouth closed often yielded interesting material. Likewise, allowing long pauses in a conversation might coax additional surprising information to come out. Introverts tend to have an easier time than extroverts tolerating conversational silences, for the following reasons.
First, we prefer to think before we speak. On the spot, this produces pauses. In contrast, extroverts often discover what they think by talking things through with someone else. They don’t need to stop and consider.
Second, we dislike small talk, so we’d rather be quiet than speak randomly to fill in conversational gaps.
Third, we generally don’t talk idly to impress other people. We know how to keep secrets, which earns others’ trust. And because we don’t talk for the sake of talking, we’re less likely to have to retract things or apologize for carelessly worded revelations.
Thus, personality tendencies that may make for awkwardness when the goal is smoothly flowing conversation can give introverts the upper hand in other situations. A person of few words – especially if those few words have impact – can even come across to others as enigmatic and magnetic.
I was hoping for additional insights along these lines when I picked up and read Golden: The Power of Silence in a World of Noise by Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz. Although the authors mentioned introverts just once in their book, their spiritual anecdotes and reflections suggested some new nuggets related to the ideas above that I wanted to share with you in my own words.
A pause in talking, however short, can offer a small pocket of peace or rest, a mini-retreat, the suspension of pretense or an opportunity for someone to tune into themselves or for their true self to emerge. It creates space for “What do you really think?” Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning put it this way: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Minimizing small talk, as introverts prefer, also creates such space.
People fear silence because it implies nothingness, an existential abyss, the wordlessness of eternity.
Some people scorn silence of any length as wasted time. But just as the rests in music help form a melody, a letup in conversational back-and-forth contributes to a meaningful interchange.
Silence can represent presence rather than absence.
All in all, introverts’ willingness to abide pauses or silences may set the stage for deeper, more authentic exchanges of ideas – an outcome introverts strongly embrace.