While watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing this evening, one thought would not leave me alone. So much is being communicated without a single word! No speeches, no common language, yet the message came across loud and clear. Along the same lines, I heard on the radio a few weeks ago a filmmaker comment about Charlie Chaplin and the movies of his era where the motion picture was able to express almost every situation and human emotion without a soundtrack. My little daughter is able to express every emotion, every need and wish, and is able to communicate perfectly without being able to speak. Is it possible that speech is the impediment, the crutch in communication?
Let me give you a few more examples. In MBA classes on communication much emphasis is placed on observing non-verbal cues, in being self-aware and being able to not only hear what others say but also listen to their tone, facial expressions, body language and posture. I am sure you have heard this before: “It’s not what you say but how you say it.” One more example, I heard a few years ago from a coworker who said he did not watch or listen to the news but rather preferred reading the paper because his mind could scan and process far greater volumes of written information rather than waiting for the speech to finish on TV/radio.
There is much we want to say sometimes but there’s also great value in remaining silent. While sitting in a meeting room full of MIT graduates at work, I sometimes feel the urge to correct a mistaken track of thoughts to only discover that I am the one who is mistaken. While listening to a presentation by a less experienced coworker, I realize that what he needs is to pause sometimes.
There are many examples where listening is more important than speaking. There are also times when speaking is critical but people are quiet. Knowing where speech belongs in communication, how we should teach our children and ourselves the perfect balances of speaking up and remaining quiet is key. Furthermore, how we make sure that when we speak out, we do so in the most appropriate way is also important. Perhaps a silent protest is all that’s needed to bring an issue to the forefront.
One final thought, what we say paints a stronger picture of ourselves than what we don’t say but often shouldn’t. Consider how presidential candidates, or others running for public office have to say so much and basically get elected based on speech. Perhaps we give speech more slack than we should.