• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Listening for the Silences

What can you learn from what's not said?

June 10, 2014

Purposely vague excerpt from actual conversation this week:

“What did you think?”

“It was…(long pause)...”

The pause mattered far more than the words that followed it.  Followup questions revealed that the pause did, in fact, portend.

I know that some people believe that the way to show leadership is to chew the scenery, and to fill any dead air with the sound of one’s own voice.  Some otherwise intelligent people follow that script.  But I just don’t know how you could hear the silences that way.

Silences have their limits, of course.  They’re hard to quote -- see above -- and therefore hard to put too much weight on if you’re making a factual claim.  If you don’t have context, they can be easy to misread; mistaking a seething silence for a contented silence doesn’t lead anywhere good.  If you don’t have an ear for them, they’re easy to get wrong.  In some settings, even if you’re willing to hear the silences, others aren’t, and they’ll drown it out themselves. 

But ignore them at your peril. 

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen that kind of listening taught well?  If so, how?


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