Silence: Pattern Interruptus

When conflict is all around, resolution seems distant, and the voices ring loud, sometimes the best way forward is to say nothing silence.

As a mediator, I’ve found silence can be an effective pattern interrupt technique, a way to break impasse, especially if the parties in a dispute aren’t listening well, are locked onto negativity, the conversation seems to be going around in circles.

Silence may be golden, yet, it can be a tough sell, both to yourself, and/or to others. At times, the pressure can feel enormous, to engage, right now.

Silence can be a powerful signal that something is not right. Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, written almost 50 years ago, re-shaped our relationship with nature, and did so building on her awareness of silence that things weren’t quite right out there.  It is an amazing book.  I was deeply moved by it.

There is undeniable power in silence, both on a personal, internal level, in leaving space for personal reflection, and in listening to and/or influencing others.  Artists know that.  Great speakers know that.

And protesters at a northern California university know that, witness this video their response to a pepper spray incident the day before, connected with the protestors show of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  (Credit goes to Catherine Morris for these links)

(video not displaying? click here)

How that silent protest alters the dynamics of protest and violence at the University of California Davis is still to be played out.

Regardless, silence these days, is almost always a pattern interrupt, and pattern interrupts are a way to break impasse.

What do you think of the protesters use of silence?

What is your favourite example of using silence as a way to break impasse?

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  1. I love using silence as a technique. I find it can be incredibly powerful and there is something about that silence that makes the other person dig deeper into what they were originally saying, they can get to those underlying interests by using silence as a tool. Great post Ben, and an incredibly powerful video.

  2. Thanks Jason. Good observation about the digging deeper… perhaps that silence gives us space for inner reflection, which, even if on unconscious level, can connect us to those core interests?

  3. I really appreciate this post Ben. Some of the most powerful human moments I have experienced are those when we have sat together in silence.

  4. Thanks Laura. Sitting together in silence… how often do we take that opportunity? As you say, it can be a powerful human moment… Maybe we should start learning its potential, early in our lives… and we would do it more often, as a habit?

  5. I thought it was going to be some boring old blog post, but it genuinely compensated for my time. I will post a link to this page on my web site. I am sure my visitors will find that very helpful.

  6. Thanks Earl. I like the title of your blog… I’m guessing, though, that you make others happy. 🙂

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