An experienced auditor uses this tool to elicit more information than necessary. Quality engineers use it during investigations of anomalies to bring pertinent information to the surface. Quality inspectors use it during source inspections at a supplier to give the space for details not captured in the paperwork. And, quality managers use this tool to help other functional managers discover what influences their processes and resultant effectiveness. This tool is not documented. It’s rarely trained but often observable in those who have been in the business a while. Silence is a powerful mechanism of understanding how people, processes, functions, and organizations operate. When an auditor stays silent after someone answers a question, the insecurities of those being question get them talking. When people talk they reveal what they are concerned about. This is true of any interaction where information is exchanged.
The first time I observed the power of silence was not at work in the numerous quality functions I’ve had the opportunity to perform. I first encountered the power of silence while practicing and teaching the Taoist Arts. It is readily observable during meditation but also while practicing the forms. However, most of us don’t even realize the power we cultivate in our practices until we begin to teach. At first, instructors show a movement or share an idea. Because we all get nervous we quickly move on to the next nugget of information. After a fashion, we become more comfortable sharing information. Some instructors get to the point where they share a movement or an idea and then simply wait. In doing, we the students begin thinking for ourselves about whatever we learn and then put it together in our own way. Learning happens when absorb the individual bits of information and then integrate it using the foundation of our own experience. This happens between the bits, in the silence between questions, answers, and more questions.
Harnessing the power of silence takes a level of comfort with the unknown and self awareness. Over time as we gather experience, we gain confidence in facing the unknown. This in turn allows us to let others be what they are and in doing so learn from our observations decoupled from our projections of how others should be acting or how things “should” be. Without this comfort in the unknown, we swing like monkeys from one problem to another always grasping for the next vine. The power of silence is where the monkey pauses on a branch to see the forest through the trees. From the vantage point of silence, our monkey minds can then make more conscious decisions about where to go next or how to solve problems in ways that prevent recurrence. If this is not the essence of quality, then I know not what is. Silence is also a tool that can help us extract as much marrow from the limited lives we have. As far as managing the our biz it is beneficial to explore the silence available to us. At first we simple need to be comfortable with the unknown that our silence presents to us. After which, we can start using silence in our jobs to better understand those we interact with. We can also use it to better understand our friends, kids and spouses. This understanding can then transform into knowledge and confidence. The power of silence can transform our experience. Grounded in silence and being comfortable with the unknown enables us to withstand the slings and arrows of daily living. We can have a boss or leader berate us and not worry about the consequences. We can help those who have lost control regain some connection with what’s happening. We can better integrate with the world around us if we can employ a little more silence within ourselves
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