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How important is silence?

Much of communication focuses on expressive aspects of verbal and non-verbal communication. However, silence also plays an important role
© Shanghai International Studies University

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.’

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?

Quiet times

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?


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.

Remember, silence is an important dimension of communication.

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.

© Shanghai International Studies University
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