It's kind of Zen-like to say this, but one of the most important parts of any conversation is the silence. Silence can serve many functions in a conversation and how you manage it determines your level of sophistication in communication. Here are some points to keep in mind about silence in communication.
1. Allowing silence in a conversation puts pressure on the other person.
For instance, in some cultures, if you are a young person and want to talk with a person to talk with a person of authority, you are expected to approach them and wait to be recognized. You aren't supposed to speak until you are acknowledged. This sort of silence is a sign of respect. It's akin to, "Children should be seen and not heard," if you remember that phrase from long ago.
However, in conversation between two peers and equals, it's expected both parties will contribute to the conversation, and there will no glaring silences. If there are any, it causes discomfort -- in some cases, even physiological pain.
This is one tool that some therapists use. Allowing silence to exist between the therapist and the client, put pressures on the client to say something. This is also a tool investigators use. When you're subjected to this sort of silence, it feels like pressure, and you're likely to blurt something out! And it can often be the one thing you don't want to say.
Therefore some people in power use this ploy, such as an interviewer. An experienced interviewer may let a silence hang, just to see how the person being interviewed conducts him or herself.
2. Silence can indicate hostility or disagreement.
Some people are completely "flooded" by such emotions. Think of a teenager, for instance. They are prone to withdraw into sullen silence rather than using constructive discontent techniques, talking it out, and keeping the connection going.
3. Silence can indicate profoundness, such as respect, awe or horror.
4. Silence can indicate contemplation.
5. Silence can be intentional rudeness.
6. Silence can create a listening space.
For instance, if you really are giving your undivided attention to someone else, your pupils will widen. This is a sign that you're willing to "let it all come in," in the same way that opened pupils allow more light to come in.
Our pupils expand when we see something we like, and contract when we want to shut something out - thus the "slanted pig eyes" of someone who's furious. If you're not mindful of this, it's completely automatic (unconscious) and so reveals a lot to the other person who is savvy about it. However, with practice you can bring it more under mindful control.
You can learn to give this sort of eye contact to someone intentionally. It's part of knowing EQ and being mindful. And what a gift! It says, "Open up. I'm here. I'm listening. I want to hear what you have to say, and to understand."
7. Silence can indicate empathy.
We indicate this to the other by being slow to respond and not jumping in to words. Sometimes sounds are more attuned... a murmur, a sigh, sucking in the breath in shock, soothing, cooing sounds, clucking, or shaking the head and going uh, uh, uh. Similarly, we use the sound "hmmm" when we are deep in thought contemplating what the other has said.
The take-home point