The world’s best computer is sitting atop your shoulders. Maybe it’s time to allow it to work at full strength–unimpeded by the “noises” that surround and distract us every day.

However, silence seems to be harder and harder to find these days.

Our cars have become living rooms with wheels, complete with surround sound systems. Our homes usually have a television going or at least a “smart” device calling out to us that someone else wants to be heard. Our lobbies, sports arenas, even movie theatres, thrust sound at us from all directions.

Yet, how many of these sounds are generic, canned responses, meant to amuse or distract and be forgotten in the next moment? How many conversations come at you speaking more of someone else’s agenda and discounting yours?

Conversely, how many “sounds” aimed at you daily are directed towards you alone, with the hope that you might find memorable meaning in the engagement?

I currently work for Vistelar, a Milwaukee-based global communications consulting and training firm. Our experts teach the art of “verbal defense and influence” to professionals in the fields of education, public safety, health care, and business. Our training is centered on treating people with dignity and showing them respect.

VDI begins with listening – especially in the presence of conflict.

Most of us desperately need to understand how to adopt respectful and focused attitudes that invite others to speak with us to the best of their ability. We need to make sincere efforts to take in and comprehend what is being said to us and why, while deliberately putting our personal or professional agendas on hold.

On its face, the art of conversation seems like the simplest of actions, an unconscious reaction when others seek us out.

Yet listening is not a static act, disconnected from our other “important” daily activities; quite the opposite.

Listening is actually a critical adjunct to all our daily interactions and dialogues, whether these conversations involve personal life-changing decisions; have legal or financial ramifications; further the education of our young; help advance us in the workplace, or in societal debates where we can collectively take on challenges that may seem overwhelming to deal with on our own.

Prior to my work with Vistelar, I made my living as a public radio talk show host for 21 years. People used to tell me I had a great job. “You get paid to talk,” they’d tease me.

I responded quite seriously, “No, I get paid to listen.”

Over my decades on the air, I was struck that some callers would wait for up to 45 minutes simply to air their remarks, tell a story, or pose questions to my guests.

Listening to thousands of these encounters led to the recent publishing of my first book, People Are Dying To Be Heard: A guide to listening for a lifetime of communication. At the heart of my book is the message that people long for someone to hear them.

We all have a tremendous individual power in this world. We have the power to sit still, listen and allow others to be heard. But none of us will find the right words for response unless we’ve embraced silence as a “place” where we can collect and organize our thoughts before we turn them into sounds.

Our high-tech world often drowns out people’s voices–both actual and virtual voices—simply by the density of so many “voices” competing for attention. Every time we fail to accommodate these voices in the boardroom, in the classroom, in the home or online, we make a poor choice in regards to our attention.

We fail to see silence as an opportunity for energetic listening and response direct engagements.

I want to encourage you not to fear silence but to embrace it.

If you wonder if you are compatible with another – either for romantic purposes, employment purposes or maybe you’re just looking for a new friend or roommate – try sitting in silence with them.

When life throws you a curve and you’re not sure what to do, don’t Google the answer. Try sitting in silence without an electronic device at the ready.

Here’s an idea for the workplace: Try holding silent brainstorming sessions. Leave the smart devices at your desk and gather the office staff into a conference room to sit in shared silence.

There is powerful mental energy to be had in that room.

Put an idea on the agenda and let everyone have their silent thoughts. Initially, try this for just for five minutes. Then allow people to share.

Over time, build up this practice to 10 or 15 minutes. You’ll be amazed at what your group quietly can think through and then share together. When people finally are allowed to talk, positive energy will exert itself. Ideas to improve the workplace, for instance, will quickly surface.

Getting comfortable with silence actually means getting connected to the noise and sounds around us when talk isn’t happening. Sometimes it is the HVAC system or the wind outside. Sometimes it is the sound of others breathing in the silent brainstorm session.
Sometimes – well you’ll have to be quiet to “hear” what I’m trying to share.