When silence says more than words

when silence says more than words

This post is part of a 31 day series called “doing less to build more.” To read the other posts in this series, click here.

Words are my thing. I often don’t know what I really think about something until I’ve written or talked about it. I process my life with words.

I’ve had a lot to say since I learned to talk, so enthusiastically that I sometimes forgot to breathe in between sentences as a kid. (Mike would want me to admit that this still happens when I’m especially wound up about something.)

Communicating precisely what I mean is important to me, and I often don’t achieve it. How many times do I repeat something I said over and over in my head, wondering how it was perceived, or wishing I hadn’t said it at all?

Silence can achieve more than words sometimes.

When a friend shares a struggle with me, I feel compelled to offer a solution.

But how often do I share a struggle with Mike, and all I’m looking for is an empathetic listener? When he starts devising action plans for me, I feel frustrated. My friends are feeling the same way when they just want a listener and I launch into advice mode.

Our ears are two of our most valuable assets. This is a continual lesson for me as I often stumble over myself to give answers and help when none are requested.

I say this to you as I say it to myself: you don’t have to have all the answers.

This tendency flares up more than ever with my sister. I hope I do it less than I used to, but I can still feel her tuning out when I am rambling on about what she should do. Even over the phone, I can sense when she is no longer listening to my unbidden advice.

I’m trying to remember to ask if advice is wanted before I plunge into helper mode. Even the best advice is annoying when it falls on reluctant ears.  

When someone I know is devastated, my first human response is to say something that will bring comfort. I want to find the right words in that moment.

But sometimes, there are no right words. Even truth spoken at the wrong moment feels empty. 

Pointing out the silver lining might make me feel better, but it subtly invalidates the pain and loss. It’s uncomfortable, but we just need to let them know that we are right there, available even as they’re wallowing in pain. We must resist the urge to make them feel better so that we feel better.

We love to rejoice with those who rejoice, but weeping with those who weep is a weightier call. Our presence and maybe our silence are enough. Struggling to come up with the “right” words can be ineffective and even offensive.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m with you.” And nothing else.

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7 thoughts on “When silence says more than words

  1. This is so true. I also find that just verbalizing the honest truth — This really sucks — without trying to put a happy face on it can be very comforting.

  2. My mantra to myself is “Everything doesn’t need to be said.” I work on this especially with my husband who is good listener but doesn’t need to hear about EVERYTHING I’m thinking and feeling. This also obviously applies when someone is sharing something with you. You can always say something but you can’t unsay it.

    1. Thanks for sharing your wisdom here, Rebecca. I tend not to filter my incessant talking to my husband, but you’re mentioning it has made me think about it. He doesn’t need to hear everything I’m thinking. I wear him out sometimes, I know.

  3. We are a lot alike! I call myself a ‘fixer’. If someone shares their woes with me, I find myself doling out advice when sometimes I should listen and be the empathetic ear they are seeking.

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