Today 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.
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@kmueller62 Let’s set a date. :)
Lisa Gerber You do! I’ve also seen that on Facebook… put a status update out there, and watch how people react to it. It’s REALLY interesting!
Matt Vazquez Matt, you almost made me cry with that comment. Thank you so much. My grandfather was an amazing person. Side tidbit: had he not chosen the Air Force as his career, he might have been India’s first champion tennis player… that’s how good he was at the game!
I always thought you were very introspective, unusually so for such a young person. So your comment made total sense to me. I’ll offer something to chew on, though: don’t beat yourself up too much over stuff like this, we all do it. The good part is that you recognized it, and now you know that it’s not something you want to do again. But you know what? We’re human. We all make mistakes. As long as we keep trying… that’s what’s important.
I’m good, my friend. I hope you are too! Happy Thanksgiving.
shonali most definitely.
Shonali Kirk Hazlett Thanks so much. And to you and yours as well.
Shonali, I feel like I know you better after reading this post. Your authenticity always inspires me, and it sounds like your grandfather was one of a kind.
Sometimes it really takes something to not say something. I’ve had this experience as recently as two weeks ago in a company wide meeting, where I found myself trying to be witty and fill my conversations strategically to reinforce certain aspects of myself (personable, bold, etc.). Afterwards I was actually a bit upset with myself for manufacturing who I was in front of people, rather than letting myself be represented by simply my being.
Sometimes you gotta smile and think about what a funny thing it is to be a human being. :-) Thanks for starting my day off right Shonali. Sincerely hope that life is good where you are.
kmueller62 Excellent! Catch up some time?
TheJackB Me too.
Totally appreciate this sentiment. Lately, i much prefer social situations where I can listen and not have to talk. :) I think it’s mostly because I spend so much time talking and being “on” during the work day. Sitting back in silence is not only relaxing but you you learn a thin or two about the people around you. :)
shonali Of course. I am particularly fond of stories about grandparents. I miss my own more than I can say.
shonali You’re welcome Shonali!
shonali doing really well!
JohnmooreBsk MeghanMBiro Thank you both so much for sharing my #WUL post on my grandpa’s lessons in silence.
JoeDeGiorgio markwschaefer Belated thanks for sharing, I appreciate it very much.
kmueller62 Thanks, Ken! How’re you doing?
timbo1973 SEOcopy Belated thanks for sharing, I really appreciate it!
TheJackB TY Jack!
geoffliving Thank you, Geoff! And thank you for stopping by, I know how busy you are.
Kirk Hazlett Thanks for letting me share. :p
Thank you for this great gift of a comment, my friend. I think your quietness is one of the qualities I most admire in you. You really listen to people, and it shows. Also, whoever says you’re “too” quiet doesn’t know you, let me just tell ’em. ;)
I wish you’d been able to meet my grandfather. You would have really liked him. He was a wonderful man, and we were really lucky to be a part of his family.
Happy Thanksgiving, my friend!
@Alison Gillespie Alison!!!! I didn’t even see this comment come through earlier, that’s how crazed I’ve been! Thank you so much for stopping by! You’ve left such a beautiful comment that I really have nothing to add, except to tell you how much it means to me. Thank you so much.
I never got to say “hi” in church on Sunday, but will catch you this coming week! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, with lots of blessed silence.
rosemaryoneill That is SO true! I think that’s one of the things that struck me about you when I met you, you’re very thoughtful when you listen. It really makes the other person feel you are actively engaged with them. So how apt that you were the first person to leave a comment here! Thank you so much, my friend.
Knowing when to add your voice to anything is a good skill. It’s never good when we are talking just to be seen talking, I feel. If there is no value then there is no reason. Your grandfather clearly got that, and I wish I had gotten it at an earlier age. Great post.
What a beautiful story, @shonali , about a beautiful man. Your Grandfather had it all figured out, and he has left you…and now us…with some genuinely serious things to consider.
Silence is, indeed, seemingly becoming a lost “art.” I’m often accused of being “too quiet” or of “not speaking up enough.”
What my colleagues don’t seem to realize is that I’m listening and evaluating, and that I will speak up when I feel I can add value to the conversation…not to simply hear the sound of my own voice…and ensure my name is recorded in the meeting minutes as having “participated.”
I envy you the opportunity to have known and learned from such a wonderfully wise man…and to have equally wonderful memories that will keep you “connected” to him forever.
Thanks so much for sharing.
shonali You’re welcome! Have a great weekend :)
I really enjoyed this post, Shonali and I can really relate to it at the moment.
Listening is a lost skill, and one that takes practice to do well. It isn’t just being silent and stone faced. It is being engaged and open-minded to possibility, it is being humble. It is thinking about others, not just the person I’m with but also to the knowledge I’ve gained before that tells me what to ask, what to mull over, when to hug a friend, when to know that a conversation is coming to a natural close. It is work.
Listening is not re-tweeting. It is not hitting a “like” icon. It is wondering about others silences and asking them to contribute. It can be joyful. It can be painful. It can be momentous.
Modern life dismisses the value of that in so many ways… And I think listening really begins with allowing time to let all the noise that is in your own head flow out so that you can hear the real words someone else is saying.
Even just literally turning off the phone and fully listening to a lecture at a conference, or ignoring texts during a dinner conversation are no longer the norm. But such practices actually allow me to communicate BETTER because I’ve thought a bit before responding.
You have inspired me with this post.
rhogroupee Aww, thank you and for leaving the first comment! xo
The ability to stay silent in a meeting, online, or at a gathering is like a secret weapon. When your words are fewer, they have more impact.