It pays to stay quiet

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

Illustration: Satheesh Vellinezhi

“You’ve put on so much weight since I last saw you.” “Oh no! You’ve started balding.” “I know a good dentist who can straighten your son’s crooked teeth.” We, Indians, have a penchant for hearing these comments ever so often by so-called “well-meaning” friends and relatives. And, singletons in their twenties and thirties are subjected to the eternal, “So, when are you going to settle down?” Speaking our minds and airing our views to our near and dear ones is characteristic of our culture. But, does it have it be this way?

While I am all for communicating without feeling hemmed down by socio-cultural or political restraints, there are times when silence is the better option. Knowing when to speak or remain quiet is as important as the words that leave our tongue. In fact, learning to weigh our words is an important life skill that can transform our interactions with just about anyone. Whether it is our best friend, a boss, the milkman, or a stranger on a train, watching our words before they strike can reduce unpleasantness, misunderstandings and outright altercations.

But how do we figure out when to speak up or stay silent? One of the most powerful ways to gauge a situation is to stay silent — at least for a while. Silence can empower us in the following ways.

First, when we are quiet, we also have a chance to quieten the thoughts that continually race through our minds. And, slowing down our thinking can enhance our observational skills. We may pick up cues from the context and the persons we are interacting with that we would have otherwise missed; we can then choose to respond in a composed manner instead of reacting in the heat of the moment. Second, when we choose not to respond immediately, we buy time to assess the impact of our words. We are less likely to blurt out a spontaneous hurtful comment that we would later regret, thereby also reducing the stress of others. According to Dr. Alex Lickerman, a general internist who writes about well-being, silence has the power to boost our self-control. Initially, when we stop ourselves from reacting on the spur of the moment, it creates the appearance of self-control. But with time and practice, our ability to monitor our internal selves improves substantively.

As all teachers and professors can attest to, it pays to stay quiet after asking a question, even when the pause seems awkward. If we wait long enough, the other person, students too, are bound to attempt an answer, according to Dr. Lickerman. As you cultivate the art of remaining silent, even for a few seconds, you may find that your interactions with others grow more positive. Dr. Lickerman argues that we become more astute listeners as we develop the ability to stay silent. And, as all human interactions depend on the ability to listen to one another, we may lead by example in this noisy world.

The writer is Director, PRAYATNA. Email:

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Printable version | May 22, 2022 8:53:13 am |