How long have you been silent for? Would you hate or enjoy 36 hours of quiet?

red10 ‘s Piers Carter decided to find out and shares his learning in this 5-min article – or watch the 3-minute video version.

Why? … To be a better coach for my clients

In red10 we believe in continuous learning. This year I’ve been doing the Embodied Facilitator Course and during module 4 I was given an opportunity to practise silence…not talking to or communicating with anyone for 36 hours.

Because much of the course is about exploring our boundaries, about developing awareness of our patterns and habits and developing wider and deeper capabilities to operate in different circumstances.

With more range I can be a better coach.

Four brave souls

Only 4 of us took on the challenge; In a group of 40 people, to be silent whilst living and working together from 9 pm on Tuesday to 9am in Thursday morning.

It was very revealing

I realised I used to do a lot of emotional regulation by talking to the people i.e. checking in with people, asking questions, simply having a laugh and relaxing. Being denied that felt like a limb had been removed. My talking was in some way calming and reassuring for me.

I noticed people tended to avoid me. They’d suddenly remember I’d elected to be silent, apologise and walk away. I screamed inside “NO, please stay!” and try to implore them with my eyes – yet away they’d go.

I realised some people choose silence rather than talking. People for whom introversion is normal were taking themselves away to commune with their thoughts – this was what they wanted. For me it was like a punishment.

Yet there was a nobility in the silence. A kind of self-contained security.

In the classroom sessions I wanted to contribute to make myself appear intelligent or insightful.

I became aware how interesting it is to simply listen. I learned a great deal about my colleagues by watching and listening.

A quiet thank you

It was so rewarding to be of service. I was able to clear away dishes after meals, tidy the place and arrange chairs and tables. People seemed not to notice and it gave me great pleasure. Occasionally someone would walk past and place their hand on my arm or shoulder, look me in the eye and mouth ‘thank you’. It was very moving and didn’t need lots of words.

Gradually people became tolerant of my silence and started to invite me to sit with them, simply to allow me to listen and just be there. I found I was less and less inclined to talk and more inclined to listen. It was enough.

As my time in silence came to an end, I felt some sadness about being required to talk. I had enjoyed having no pressure to perform or contribute and had found other, more authentic ways to be with the group.

Say something profound

When 9am arrived, one of my fellow participants drew attention to the moment and said some words of recognition; none of the others had continued for the whole 36 hours. Suddenly, having been in the back ground, quietly observing, all eyes were on me. iI felt like I was meant to be profound and so I said:

“It’s been interesting being silent for 36 hours – most of all I’ve realised that 95% of what I normally say is utter rubbish”.  

Discomfort is data

So what?

Well, I’m more inclined to wait a while before I talk, I enjoy listening and watching. I’ve learned that introverts must sometimes feel very content and, on occasions, alarmed at the expectation of saying something in groups.

As a basic principle it is very rewarding doing anything that is outside of my comfort zone, it reveals my patterns, raises my awareness, allows me to develop range and therefore offers me more choices.

When were you last at an edge of comfort? Discomfort is data.