Listen To The Sounds Of Silence

A while back I wrote a column dealing with the importance of knowing when to talk and when to remain silent. I do not know to whom the quote should be attributed, but in that column I shared, “At times, silence is the height of eloquent expression.” A professor used the anonymous quote in one of my graduate school classes. It impressed me when I first heard it and it impresses me today. It can be applied in many situations.
   I think one of the better times to remember the quote is when we do not know exactly how to respond to something that someone else has said or done. Unsure or ill-prepared responses can be dangerous. Such responses have led to broken relationships – and worse.
   After he read that earlier column, I received an email message from an ad agency account representative in the Northeast. I want to share with you a portion of what he wrote:
   “Recently I was in a meeting with several clients from a large corporation. One of the attendees invited a third-party vendor to join us. The vendor ended up blasting my advertising philosophy. I said nothing in defense of his attack. Even when some of the clients chimed in, I said nothing. The only thing I did for the three hours we met was take notes while asking a few questions for clarification. Following that Friday afternoon meeting, I boarded my plane and flew back home. As I sat on the plane I thought, “I blew it! I have lost that account!
   “The head of the group telephoned me the next week. He told me that he was impressed with my cool, calculated performance in the meeting! It turns out that the two people who call the shots for the corporation were thinking alike: ‘Let the loud people shout it out and the quiet ones plan our next move.’
   “Carl, it was bought home to me very clearly that the message for any account representative is that silence can be your valuable friend. It can instill confidence in you and in your meetings. Do your homework, say your piece, and then let your clients talk.”
   I have mentioned it previously during the years I have been writing this column, but it is important to mention these statistics again: According to a major survey, 45% of our communication time is spent in supposedly listening to other people. Another survey reported that 54% of our time is spent in listening.
   Yet, the first survey mentioned above indicates that after 48 hours we retain only 25% of what we hear. The second survey maintains the retention is only 13 to 17%. Some people have tested to retain as little as 10%. Is there any wonder that there is often a failure to communicate at work, at home, and in social gatherings?
   The best communicators are not necessarily the best talkers. The best communicators are usually the ones who know how to listen. Yet, most people attempt to drive home their points by talking too much and listening too little. 
   In my “Are We Communicating Yet?” book published by Successories, I list 12 reasons why we are such poor listeners, and the number one reason on the list is, “You are concentrating on what you are going to say when the other person finishes talking (or when he or she pauses to take a breath) rather than concentrating on what the person is saying.”

   Even though so many people are poor listeners and fear “the sounds of silence,” the necessity of listening to assure good communication has been echoed through the ages. One such emphasis came from Greek Philosopher Mestrius Plutarchurs (known to history as Plutrach) who lived during 46-120 A.D.  He wrote, “Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.” Writer Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) stated, “One of the best rules of conversation is never say a thing which anyone can reasonably wish had been left unsaid.” English author William Hazlitt (1778-1830) put it this way: “Silence is a great art of conversation.”
Interested in Carl Mays “listening” to you and then speaking to your group? Author of over a dozen books and presenter at over 2500 events, he can be contacted at or 865-436-7478. For more info on Carl, visit


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