Silence is more than the absence of noise. In negotiations, it can be strategic, and for those practiced in the art of patience, useful and important.
As humans, we are uncomfortable with gaps in conversation. We rush to fill the lull or, instead, we use it to prepare for what we’ll say next, not really listening or processing what might be right in front of us. Silence is hard when we want to get things done. Beyond the conference room or call, we know this impulse too. We check our phones first thing, convert conversations to text acronyms and emojis, and during the day, check in for news snippets and “likes” to validate our comments meant to save the Internet or at least some subset of friends and strangers alike. Technology enables faster communication, better analytics, efficient commerce, and the building of ties and communities far beyond our own. Why not lose a bit of silence to get a quicker deal, comment on just-released data, or complete a conversation that would take too long in-person? Noise means faster progress and we all need that, right?
For me, fishing in Minnesota’s boundary waters provided some of the deepest silences I’ve ever known. That’s why I was so eager to read The Eloquence of The Sardine: Extraordinary Encounters Beneath The Sea, the captivating recent book by marine scientist Bill Francois, who holds a Ph.D in fish hydrodynamics. Francois urges silence too. How else can we observe and learn from the conversations of the sea, whether that’s whales connecting at long distances on a channel all their own or a school of herring clustering and “talking” — the Swedish military mistook for a fast- approaching enemy submarine during the Cold War? I loved how Francois weaved history, marine science and anecdote — beyond the raw data — to get at the stories underneath. Readers also will learn how communication challenges above mirror the emerging problems below. The cacophony resulting from expanded shipping lanes, trawlers overfishing, and diminishing habitats now shared by an expanded number of species complicates the ability of aquatic animals to hear and be heard. More silence truly matters, there too and especially now.
Finally, with the benefit of silence, we’re better able to connect the dots. Consider The Eye Test: A Case For Human Creativity in The Age of Analytics, the recent book by journalist Chris Jones. Data matters and technology allows us to consume and process more of it than ever before. Yet, Jones urges us to step back from “data deluge,” focus deeply, and apply our human imagination and the occasional unshakeable hunch to make decisions. With compelling examples ranging from serial killer investigations, Derek Jeter’s sub-par fielding stats, and tips from The Price Is Right, Jones explains that data alone can be noisy and point in the wrong direction until we lean in with intuitive reflection.
Authors & Innovators is an occasional column by Larry Gennari, a transactional lawyer, law professor, and chief curator of Authors & Innovators, an annual business book and ideas festival. Gennari also teaches Project Entrepreneur, a business fundamentals bootcamp for returning citizens, at BC Law School.