You have not converted a man because you have silenced him. – John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn
What does that mean?
This quote is about debates and how they appear to end. There are many reasons one might be silent in an argument, debate, or other exchange of ideas.
The other person could be absolutely baffled at what the you just said. They might be considering what you said, and trying to process the new information. They might be coming up with a rejoinder. Or they might be trying to control their temper.
This quote warns us not to improperly interpret that silence as victory. They may have simply decided that they remain unconvinced, and that they are unwilling to engage you anymore.
This all presumes an even power base between the debaters. If one is the boss, or holds some other position of power or authority, the other may have decided to hold their tongue, lest it betray them.
Why is listening to the other person important?
Especially when there is a discussion going on, listening is done with more than just the ears. To truly hear someone, you have to include tone of their voice, their body language, and feel their emotional state.
That’s why it is so much easier to misunderstand someone over the phone or in text/e-mail than it is when you are face to face. With so many of the cues we rely on for context missing, it’s hard to imagine we have actually heard what they said, much less what they had intended.
Yet listening is a critical skill many of us have trouble mastering. That time when we aren’t talking, what do we do with it? Some think random thoughts, while others might be planning their next retort.
Whatever may be going on in your head, if you are anything less than completely focused on listening to them, you are going to miss something. Perhaps not this conversation, but the next, or the one after that. And listening is only the first step in understanding.
Where can I apply this in my life?
The misunderstood phrase is the core of most ‘situation comedy’ on TV, and for many humorous movies. The perception of everything from slights and insults to disrespect or even plots against them show up regularly. And, from their viewpoint, it is often rightly so.
How often have you been misunderstood? You said something you hoped was funny, but someone else took it as an insult? Did you know that person over there was Polish before you repeated that old joke your grandfather told you?
And how many times have others missed the sarcasm, and instead thought you were mocking them? I think it would be reasonable to say that we have all been there at some point in time, at least I know I have.
How bad did you feel, and to what lengths did you go in order to make it right? Or were you even able to do so? Sometimes there just isn’t an easy way to fix the damage done, is there?
What about the times when the proverbial shoe was on the equally proverbial other foot? How did that feel? What would you give today to have fully understood what was said back then? How did that end up playing out?
Back to the root of the quote, a discussion, a debate, or an argument. What do you do when silence is the response from the other person? What is their body language? Are they stroking their chin or doing some other body language that implies contemplation? If so, give them some time to think.
Are they obviously agitated? Seeming to be angry or upset? You can ask them what it was that you said which they might have misunderstood. Be prepared for the worst, but better now than later, right?
What about you? When do you go silent? What can you do to help break the silence? Can you ask them to rephrase what they just said, in case you and they have slightly different definitions for a word?
Can you rephrase what you thought they said, and say it back to them, so that they might help you improve your understanding of what they meant?
Can you give them a chance to retract what they said, in case they accidentally blurted out something patently offensive?
What about people with dyslexia? Have you ever mangled a word or two, and given a sentence a completely different meaning? Do you know who, among your friends, might be dyslexic? What about complete strangers?
There are lots of reasons for someone to become silent in a conversation. It is up to you to determine why, and what you are going to do about it. Just because they are quiet doesn’t mean you have won.
From: Twitter, @Talkmaster
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johnmorley100698.html
Photo by Peter Dutton