my grandparents' wedding dayToday would have been my grandfather’s birthday (I’ve written about him before). Even though he passed away 11 years ago, I still miss him. I suppose you never really “get over” the loss of those you love, you just get used to not having your insides turn upside down every time you think about them.

It’s taken me a while to realize it, but my granddad gave me lessons in silence I wish I’d taken to heart much, much earlier.

As I’ve written earlier, my granddad was the strong, silent type. My grandma more than made up for this… probably why they were married for 60+ years (the photo is of them on their wedding day). They were quite the pair; he tall and strapping, she tiny and… tiny!

I don’t know if it was because his family was always making so much noise (from his wife down to his grandkids, once we started arriving on the scene) that my grandfather was so quiet … but he was.

As a result, we rarely had heart-to-hearts with Dadu (pron: “dah-doo,” the Bengali word for maternal grandfather). We loved him dearly, but there was something about his ability to be quiet, and simply be, quiet, that was a little unsettling. He loved to sit and listen, or sit and read (quietly), or walk (quietly). See a theme here?

The absence of silence

I suppose when you’re used to constantly filling space with something, the absence of that “something” is unnerving.

I wonder if that’s why we have so much “noise” these days? Yes, we have incredibly exciting technologies that are evolving by the minute. Last year, thanks to working with Shel Israel and Robert Scoble to launch their book, Age of Context, I learned a ton about mind-blowing applications of technology that are literally changing the world, and changing our lives, even when we don’t know it (there’s a ton that you and I don’t know… and frankly, I don’t know if I want to know everything I don’t know!).

But OMG. Could we be any noisier with our phones, and our tablets, and our apps, and our wearables, and our _____?

The consequences of over-sharing

The other day, a former client (and continuing friend) sent me a message via Facebook to set up a meeting when he’ll be in DC. He’s someone I really enjoy talking to, so it was a lovely surprise to hear from him. What touched me even more was that he was worried about me as I hadn’t posted much on Facebook recently.

How kind of someone to think that, truly. And I know we all do, we wonder what’s going on with people we care about if we haven’t heard from them in a while.

But these days, “in a while” can start to mean minutes and hours and days, as opposed to when it used to be weeks and months and years.

Perhaps it is a sign of how used we’ve become to “over-sharing.” And when we don’t, people worry. And for that, each of us has to take responsibility for the expectations that we have each set up, based on our prior (and current) behavior.

But really… if everyone is always sharing, and talking, who’s doing the listening?

Hello Darkness, my old friend

I’m either growing up, or growing old (possibly both), because more and more, I embrace silence. I can still talk the hind leg off a donkey when I have to (and there are times I want to), but I don’t think I could truly put strategic communication programs in place for my clients if I weren’t listening to them, and for what they needed.

This is why when starting a new engagement, we figure out how to put some kind of listening dashboard in place for our clients before we do anything else. That is critical to our efforts, especially if they involve positioning and thought leadership. Once we’ve been listening a while, then we can figure out how to get people talking with, and about them. But without that listening, they’d just be babbling.

The more I recall my grandfather’s strong, silent days, the more I realize how valuable his ability to be quiet was. I don’t know if I’ll ever have that level of quiet calm, but I can try. We all can.

That doesn’t mean we all have to stop talking. It just means that we have to stop talking all the time… and start listening.

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke