When I first saw Brian Bainbridge run an Open Space Technology workshop I was impressed most by his use of silence. I know that in public speaking using silence, or pause, is a powerful way to bring the audience together. To really get their attention.
It is not surprising that many people feel uncomfortable with silence within groups, especially if you are the “leader” or “facilitator”. As Catherine Durnell Cramton has written in an article called “Finding common ground in dispersed collaboration”, silence has meant all of the following at one time or another:
- I agree
- I strongly disagree
- I am indifferent
- I am out of town
- I don’t know how to address this sensitive issue
- I am busy with other things
- I did not notice your question
- I did not realise that you wanted a response
Recently reading Practical Facilitation I came across the concept of “Bending Space and Time”. Here the author discusses how a storyteller can move the group (or listener) into a different time and space by the use of extremely long pauses.
I feel that the real power of silence, for a leader or facilitator of a group, is to really get a chance to listen to the group. To see what wants to emerge from within the group. Too often the facilitator or group leader is looked to for all the answers when, really, the group just needs time to look within.
About Andrew Rixon