The value of silence

Sydney Bellon, Columnist

Illustration by Anika Vucicevic

Do you know the feeling when you’re “talking with” someone and it gets awkward?  You feel like you are responsible for coming up with something to say to make the awkward feeling go away, and simultaneously you’re considering all the possibilities of what they must be thinking? Silence is often thought of as a sign of a lull, a lack of interest or a marker of bad topics in conversation; it is hardly ever considered to be beneficial to the health of the conversation.

When you connect in person, especially considering our typical electronic barriers, you feel a need to constantly be entertaining or involved in something. In the world of tweeting and TikToking, we are taught to always be creating, presenting and sparking debate. I think we need to put more emphasis on moments of intimate, connected and valuable conversation when interacting in person. For example, instead of eating family dinner all on separate devices, we should make sure to listen and show an active interest in the experiences and feelings of the people we are surrounded by. 

Rather than treating silence as a stalemate in conversation, I welcome the consideration that silence is merely thoughtfulness, especially in terms of academic, thought-provoking conversations. This reticence can be taken as a valuable nonverbal cue when engaging in conversation. The rush to always get to the point of the conversation breezes right past the intricate signals that a person uses to drive a conversation. I think technology is a big factor that gets in the way of a silent signal in conversation: eye contact. When flirting, physical cues are associated with the subtext of a conversation. It is not as comfortable to say what you are thinking outright, but what you are thinking could be displayed quite obviously through eye contact and body language.

In the midst of this never-ending technological age, people feel more comfortable hiding behind screens, and this makes it appear as though there is plenty of silence around us. The spaces in conversation give us opportunities to truly listen to the emotions of the other person instead of interpreting the silence as slacking on the flow of conversation. Silence is valuable because it teaches us to notice the little things and to remain in the present moment rather than jumping towards the next big shiny headline. The ellipses of your exchange may be the perfect time to test how consciously you are hearing the other side.