By Larry Gennari
Boston Business Journal
July 7, 2022
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?
Not necessarily and not all the time, according to the authors of Golden: The Power of Silence in a World Of Noise, an incredibly absorbing and insightful new book by leadership experts Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz. Noise is all around us, according to Zorn and Marz — in our ears, on our screens and in our heads. And as we try to pay attention to it all, we often lose ourselves. At work, the average person spends one full hour per day to reset after interruptions from phones and social media. At home and beyond, the level and consistency of auditory, informational and internal noise impacts cognition (especially for kids), raises stress and cardiovascular risks and heightens depression. Our brains need silence to regenerate and refresh. Beyond meditation and mindfulness, thinking and conversation, we need many more moments of deep, immersive experience that can come from outside walks, a lunch-time museum tour, or a game of Jenga with our kids. From the outset, Zorn and Marz press us to answer: “What’s the deepest silence you’ve ever known?” Readers will value their countless examples and practical tips on recognizing those opportunities every day, every week, and all the time.
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.
So what’s the best strategy for considering alternatives, balancing social media and sanity, and implementing go-forward plans in business and in life. My take: pay more silent attention, practice giving yourself more reflective space, and resist the familiar urge to just get it done right now. After reading these thought-provoking books, you may decide that more often than not, “don’t just do something, stand there” is the best advice of all.
Read in the Boston Business Journal
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.