Re: Using Silence in Meetings LO2858

Carla Shafer, Cornell Local Govt Prog (
Sun, 17 Sep 1995 16:33:54 -0400

Replying to LO2827 --

This discussion about the uses of silence has been wonderful.

I would like to suggest another use of silence that also stems from Quaker
practice. That is the use of the pause following a speaker. One Friends
meeting which I have attended prints a short guideline for visitors on the
back of their weekly bulletin. A rule of etiquette stated there is that
the group should leave an appropriate time for reflection (at least three
or four minutes) after someone speaks. When someone does choose to speak,
they should make sure they "speak to the issue" being considered and not
to the previous speaker. This is a very different dynamic than the one
most of us are used to in which people are encouraged to respond quickly
with gut reactions to other speakers in the group. Consensus may be
reached, in the latter case, as a result of getting and manipulating as
much data as possible. In the first instance, it seems, the meeting is not
so much used to generate data as to condense and polish an issue until it
"belongs" equally to everyone.

There is probably place for both kinds of work, but the use of silence in
consensus building is certainly not the more popular trend today. I think
there is one arena, however, where the use of silence in this manner
happens sponteneously with some frequency. I'm thinking of the operation
of electronically mediated discussion such as that which we are engaged in
now. The email exchange process, by nature, provides the space for group
silence and thoughtful response. Although it is certainly common to see
the quick, heated response online -- where someone is obviously cranking
out whatever idea the last message triggered the moment it was read -- it
is often the case that people really take time (sometimes days) to think
and craft a contribution to a thoughtful discussion.

I have participated in several university courses in which an email
discussion group was established in addition to the class meetings. The
increase in reflective time spent by students and faculty alike has always
been evident. Admittedly, there is much in the juxtaposition of electronic
media on our daily lives that undermines our ability to use the potential
of reflective dialog, but that's why we seek facilitators, isn't it?


Carla J. Shafer, Coordinator
Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Project
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The Cornell Local Government Program       ph: 607 255-1967, fax: 607 255-9984
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