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Considering the nature of silence

Much of communication focuses on expressive aspects of verbal and non-verbal communication. However, “silence” also plays an important role. This article helps you to consider the role and meaning of ‘silent zones.’

After you read this article (please download) by Chronemics and Silence studies pioneer, Tom Bruneau, we urge you to involve yourself in the following communication competition: Sorry, “NO TALKING ALLOWED! ”

Some of you might think “Hurrah! Silence!…. [long quiet pause, and a smile!]” For others, this is unthinkable! “How can I communicate WITHOUT talking?

But stop and think for a moment. All of us have certain quiet times each day. When and why? What do those “pauses” mean? How do we use or take advantage of silence in communication? When is it good, or when is it not good? When is it necessary, and why?

Some of us may not “say words” but our minds are still talking. Do you ever have periods when you let your mind rest and hold back mental conversations? How? Why?

Rethink your daily “communication” patterns and the role that “silence” plays in them. If you only have a few silent moments daily, consider what places, events, or rituals require silence and why? What does silence mean in each of these?

Please list as many occasions as possible when you use “silence” effectively in communication. Reflect on what the occasions are, how long the “silence” lasts, and what impacts it has.

As you think about this important dimension of communication, please feel free to engage in discussion with others in the comments section. Don’t forget to click ‘like’ on the posts that you find particularly insightful, and to explain why!

Further resources:

We recommend Tom Bruneau’s “Silence, Silences, and Silencing” entry in the Sage Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication Competence (Janet Bennett, Ed.) (2015). Bruneau was a pioneer in this area and devoted his life to understanding variations of silence and other chronemic factors, especially in non-Western, traditional cultures.

You might also want to look at the website devoted to studies on this topic, especially the page devoted to the late Tom Bruneau’s works. Scroll half way down for his more accessible article: Understanding Communicative Silence: East and West

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This article is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)