The Power of Silence

29 Sep 2017

In our increasingly busy lives, with a constant flow of information it is easy to overlook the effect of being quiet. Taking time to marshal our thoughts will enable us to clarify our thoughts, and give space for the others we work with. Silence empowers others to come up with answers.


In the last Teal Exchange in July, I was reminded of the effectiveness of silence. One of the sessions was an introduction to the Quaker Business Method facilitated by Eoin McCarthy. It is unique in that meetings are held with an intent to forge a common decision. This is summarised with the phrase “Unity not unanimity”. Accepting that it is OK to not have everyone’s agreement for a common decision.

Unity not unanimity.

How this is achieved is by using Silence to powerful effect. This silence is coupled with a clear light framework to run the event.

Meeting Conduct



Each meeting is chaired by an appointed clerk. Their role is to listen to the meeting and guide the meeting towards a minute which is agreed by all present. The clerk is responsible for providing any relevant information to people before the meeting.


Everyone else attending the meeting agrees to work within the meeting process. It is a space of respect, where you may be invited to share your opinion – and listen to other opinions.


  • The Clerk opens the meeting with silence. This helps focus on the purpose of the meeting.
  • The Clerk calls for people to share their point of view.
    • Only one person speaks at a time.
    • Only people invited may speak
    • There is a silent space between speakers
  • If the meeting becomes heated, anyone may call for a period of silence to reflect on matters under consideration
  • When the group in the meeting have found a way forward, a minute is drafted recording the decision, and agreed by everyone at the meeting

What I discovered

This process was completely different to every meeting I had experienced. In the session at the Teal Exchange, there were around 30 people in the room – and there was an overriding atmosphere of calm. While I was not invited to speak, my thoughts were reflected in what other people said. The silence made the conflict of perspectives very objective, and people had time to distil their thoughts, resulting in much shorter clearer statements.

Using the techniques

Since the workshop I have used the power of Silence with great effect.

  • During workshops asking people to take a minute to reflect on the purpose of the workshop, and whether it was moving in the right direction
    • During Sprint Events to focus on the purpose of the Event
    • Sprint Planning – building a Sprint Goal and Sprint Backlog (not doing the work)
    • Daily Scrum – Build a common plan and keep to the time box
    • Sprint Review – Understand the direction of the Product
    • Sprint Retrospective – Collectively improve
  • During training, asking people to reflect on what is their most significant learning
  • During my working day, taking time to think about what should happen next
  • Really listening – being silent when in conversation, trying not to think of anything else – only what the person I am talking to is saying
  • When I feel an emotional response, taking a moment of silence to accept the emotion and decide on what to do next

Call to action

Are you using enough silence?

How could you use moments of silence to focus (you, your team, a meeting)?

What is the smallest way you could test the idea of silence?

Pragmatic | Positive | Professional

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