Silence is Not Stagnant—It's Power Silence is Not Stagnant—It's Power

Silence is Not Stagnant—It's Power

Erin Werra Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader
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We live in a noisy world. Advertisements, social media, radio, television, even students and coworkers are constantly vying for our attention. For better or worse, the ones who win often have simply achieved the highest volume. 

The din of everyday life has created the misconception that to be heard, to succeed, we need to be loud too. But often, the opposite is true. Whether in communications or leadership style, silence is more valuable than you might think.  

Here are a few places to start embracing the quiet. 

In communicating 

When we think of communicating, we tend to think of words—speaking and exchanging messages. But silence has its own value. 

When a leader remains quiet, it creates space for others to join the conversation. Team members feel empowered to share their opinions and ask questions. They also feel valued knowing you want to hear what they have to say—something that can have an impact on employee retention

Research shows the value of silence in brainstorming sessions too. In meetings where participants gathered around a table but individually wrote down potential solutions to a problem, the quality, quantity, and creativity of those solutions were all greater than in meetings where participants verbally discussed ideas. Why? For one, participants didn't have to worry about negative peer evaluation (especially when ideas were presented anonymously). For another, no one had to wait for a space in the conversation to contribute—a social stressor that might prevent more shy or introverted members from speaking up at all. Plus, a change in topics didn’t make participants feel their ideas were no longer relevant. 

Silence is equally as important for remote teams but harder to facilitate. While leading whole remote teams may have gone by the wayside, many school leaders remain cognizant of the opportunity remote connection brings. Whether temporarily or permanently, members can remain connected and productive when away. The temptation to fill silence on a video or audio call is real—so embracing silence may be extra challenging virtually, but still very worthwhile.

At the same time, break from digital communications gives employees a chance to focus on their work without distractions. It also gives them time to digest, brainstorm, and formulate responses. Finally, less frequent check-ins can demonstrate trust in your employees, which can contribute to overall job satisfaction. 

How can you effectively execute silence in remote environments? Start by being mindful of when to use real-time communication. These tools are fantastic and contributed to a (mostly) smooth transition when the pandemic hit, but let's be real: they can be a major time vacuum. If a message isn’t time-sensitive, don’t video call or fire off an instant message. Opt for email or a collaborative document instead—chances are, you’ll get a higher-quality response anyway. 

Ultimately, treating virtual interactions like an extension of in-person is a misstep. Embracing the differences—like less frequent but more intentional correspondence—means better virtual communication.  


In leadership style 

People don’t often think of quietness as an admirable leadership quality. Our culture is biased toward extroverts, including when it comes to perceived leadership qualifications. But for every Steve Jobs there’s a Mohandas Gandhi, and research is starting to uncover the value of more reserved leaders. In fact, one interesting study found that while extroverts thrive when their employees are mainly content to do as they’re told, introverts are the more effective leaders when employees proactively offer suggestions because they’re more receptive to new ideas.  

Personality traits aside, “silent leadership” is a style that can be learned by all types of people. And it starts with an age-old maxim you might envision embroidered on a sofa pillow: “Actions speak louder than words.” Silent leaders are powerful because they inspire through doing rather than saying. They don't try to be the sole voice in the room; they are willing to listen and take into consideration the ideas and issues their employees bring forward. They act with compassion and understanding, and they have earned the respect of their team—not enforced it based on status or title. 

Just as education is the ignition of a flame rather than the filling of a bucket, silent leaders understand that handing out instructions isn’t really leading. True leadership entails walking beside their teams, every step of the way. 

(Recommended read: This article offers an insightful look at why silent leadership is so effective.) 


Silence is golden 

While the idea of falling quiet to increase productivity may feel counterintuitive, it may actually be one of the best things you can do for your team. So give it a try: Carve out some silence, and let the quiet speak for itself.  


Follow-Up Resource: Break Down the Walls: Achieving Approachable Leadership 

Approachable leaders get more done. Find out why and how to reflect on your own style in this article


Erin Werra Erin Werra Edtech Thought Leader
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