Andrew Rixon is another fan of silence in facilitation.

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

Another thing that happens in silence is that people are left wondering which of these (and other) meanings are right. And that introduction of uncertainty, and not knowing, can be very useful.

(I’ve been silent in this blog for the last few days… I hope you enjoyed it!)

5 thoughts on “Silence

  1. Dustin

    Silence is a wonderful resource in presentations. Presenters are often so busy trying to say “What they believe” that they don’t give participants ample opportunity to decide what they believe.

    People will hang onto what they believe much longer than they will retain what you and I believe.

  2. Andrew Rixon

    Silence has been used in Therapeutic settings often too.

    Interested in what the typical length of duration of silence was I found in a “Therapist use of silence in Therapy: Survey” that:

    10% of silences were less than 10 seconds

    39% of silences were between 10 – 30 seconds

    26% of silences were between 30 seconds – 1 min

    14% of silences were between 1 – 2 mins

    11% of silences were between 2 – 10 mins

    What lengths of silence have you found groups able to handle?

  3. Alistair Gibbons

    Andrew: Interesting. I’ve never measured and a lot depends on context. In groups where we’ve talked about the importance of silence, tolerance is much higher than in a group where there isn’t that context.

    I think the willingness to sit in silence could be a (fuzzy) indicator of a group’s cohesiveness…


    I loved the saying for a facilitator that I was at a conference with the other day ..(this is M-A’s, not mine …)

    “Don’t just do something — Stand there !!”


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