The use of Silence in Counselling

Silence in Counselling

Silence is Golden. A Gateway to Deeper Conversations

In our silence, we can begin to listen to what another person may be saying, as opposed to what we think they should be saying.

Dr. Iain McGilchrist, from
“The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World”

In our fast-paced world, any silence can feel like an awkward void we rush to fill.  We fear the quiet moments, viewing them as signs of discomfort or inadequacy, particularly in conversation. But what if we reframed silence as a powerful tool for reflection, connection and understanding?  Could it be an opportunity rather than an uncomfortable pause that needs to be hurried away by saying something‚Ķsaying anything?

the skill of silence in counselling skills

In our fast-paced world, any silence can feel like an awkward void we rush to fill.  We fear the quiet moments, viewing them as signs of discomfort or inadequacy, particularly in conversation.  But what if we reframed silence as a powerful tool for reflection, connection and understanding?  Could it be an opportunity rather than an uncomfortable pause that needs to be hurried away by saying something…saying anything?

Embracing silence in conversation is not about avoiding communication or stalling for time. Instead, it’s about creating space for contemplation, empathy, and authentic connection.¬†¬†

Silence allows the speaker to pause, to think, to get through the noise in their mind and heart to work to a better understanding of what is going on for them.  At the same time, silence invites the listener to dig into their active listening skills, allowing them to take notice of any nonverbal cues that can reveal more of what the speaker is thinking and feeling.

For the listener, navigating silence can be unnerving, awkward, and uncomfortable. They may be tempted to come up with something helpful or just anything to fill the gap.  But allowing silence to stretch for 10, or even 20 seconds can be transformative to the conversation.  

Doing this well is a skill and a powerful skill at that.  It is a skill that needs to be practiced.  As a listener grows more used to leaving silences, the anxieties that they may have felt early on in their training will tend to subside so that they become more adept at using it to help the other person express themselves.

Challenge yourself to incorporate intentional silences into your conversations. Experiment with leaving longer silences, perhaps 10 seconds or 20 or even longer.  With practice, your sense of when this is useful will tend to grow stronger and stronger.

silence in counselling

Clues that it may be useful to stay silent:

  • If the person stops speaking but doesn‚Äôt look at you, this may be a sign that they are thinking through something. Your respectful silence at this point will help them work through that process.
  • Pausing mid-sentence or struggling to find the right words may suggest that the person is wrestling with difficult thoughts and/or emotions. Allowing for silence can give them the opportunity to collect their thoughts and to articulate their feelings more effectively.
  • Pay attention to body language and facial expressions. If they look agitated, uncomfortable, or have an expression like a furrowed brow, they may be working through difficult feelings. This can be a good time to check in with the speaker, acknowledging that you can see that something is happening for them, to ask them if they are ok, and if they feel they can share their feelings. Often in these circumstances an awareness of the feeling comes first, and there is a time lag before the speaker can put it into words.

The use of silence in counselling

Reflect on any conversations where you have intentionally let a silence stretch longer than you usually would.  What did you notice?  How did it make you feel?  How did it impact on the speaker?

In the midst of the noise and chatter, remember that sometimes, the most profound conversations happen in the silence between words.

Are you intrigued by the art of meaningful conversation?  Driven by a strong desire to make a difference to others?  Visit us at learn.lifecharity.org.uk to explore the courses and volunteer opportunities we have for you to unlock your potential.  Take the first step today!

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