Tuesday, September 23, 2014

2 Lessons From A Few Days Of Silence

This is a tough thing for a ENFJ like me
As I approached a week with three public presentations and a pop concert, the familiar scratchiness and dry throat sensation made me panic. Standing outside on a wet chilly day at a cross-country meet, I decided not to talk for three days. This declaration was super easy to say but almost impossible to execute. Right away, I broke it when we saw one my son's former soccer coach, whom we had not seen in over 2 years. As I walked away, I started thinking about how I'd actually pull off the next few days without my voice.

After all, I am a storyteller- by nature and nurture. A corporate marketer and strategist, talking is my bread and butter. It's how I make my living especially now as an entrepreneur. Now, a full week on the other side of that experiment and those important conference speaking engagements. I sit here with my sore throat reflecting on the two most important things I learned from my few days of silence.

Many Ways To Express

Expression comes in many forms. We are taught from an early age that talking is the best and most effective way to express ourselves. After having to shut my yapper for a few days, I'm not so sure. I noticed how my family slowed down their interactions with me. I could see them hesitating as they are, sadly, accustomed to me jumping in. Their eyes reassured me that it was ok because they recognized my sadness without me having to say it. That was a powerful expression of empathy from them and my own sorrow for my past actions. Touch became extremely important to me during those few days. Normally, I am pretty low on the tactile expressions of affection. During those days, hugs and even simple hand holding were so important to me. Everyone else in my family appreciates the back rub or scratch and I'd always rejected these forms of affection, until I had no words and they became a means to express my feelings. And it has been one of the "holdovers" I have kept since I started talking again - touching more. Finally, my facial expressions and body gesturing has always been slightly on the dramatic side. During my silent days, it was like I was a mime. Without words, my other expressions were even more valuable to me and I noticed those expressions more from others.

Listening As Art

Anyone can talk. In fact, most everyone does but not many people listen. And while I am a decent listener, those two full days of not talking really taught me how to listen from a different point of view. There were so many encounters where my listening skills were sharpened. Again, mostly with my family but also at the first conference I attended that week. Meeting tons of new people and not saying much was a first for me. I decided against "explaining" not talking much and just observed. People generally hate silence and without my normal instinct to fill it - I realized how good it can be. Watching the expressions and comfort levels of people during a silent moment is incredible. I'd never seen that before and now I will allow for that as it is a great indicator of many things. The most critical listening for me occurred at the Ed Sheeran concert with my 13 year old daughter. I only knew two of his songs going into the show. Being forced to only listen at a live music event was phenomenal. Not only did I gain an appreciation for this young artist and his craft, I got to take in a concert with all my other senses because I did not talk. My body felt the music in a fresh new way. Most of the show I took in with my eyes closed feeling the music deeply. I expressed my reactions through touch with my daughter who often times looked like she was floating in air. I'm pretty sure it would have been very different had I uttered even one word.

Because I talk for a living, I plan to take some of my key insights from my silent days forward. I plan to give my voice a break at least one full day every week moving forward - no calls, no meetings and very little talking personally. I will awaken my other expression skills and activate them more often - integrate them with my words. I challenge you to join me - even if your voice is healthy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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