Being Quiet

I never lived in the same ZIP code as my husband before we got married. He lived in New York, and I was in Chicago for the first year of our relationship and Germany for the second. It made for a lot of phone conversations. The following was a common occurrence:

David: “What do you think about____________?”

Me: [silence]

David: “Are you still there?!”

Me: “Yes, I’m thinking!”

Eventually he learned that a few second of silence didn’t mean I had set the phone down and gone for coffee. And I tried to remember to say something out loud to let him know I needed a minute to think about my answer.

But still, as a person who needs time to process my thoughts, I was glad to hear what my friend Katie, who is also a therapist, says about being quiet and listening: “There’s no rush. Take your time. Let the person finish. Pause. It’s freeing for both people when there’s not pressure to respond instantly.”

Here’s another thing I’ve learned about keeping quiet: people think you’re wise. Over the years I’ve had a surprising number people tell me they view me as a deep thinker. A few have even used the word “wise.” Now, it’s possible that I’m thinking deeply about the conversation happening around me. Or I might just be planning what I want to eat for dinner. I’ll never tell!

One last reason to stay quiet—probably most relevant for those of you who talk with donors about legacy gifts. If you can manage to keep your mouth shut, most people aren’t comfortable with silence, and will jump in and say something to fill the void. Salespeople, negotiators, counselors and journalists all use silence as a technique. Try it! See what you learn about your donors. And if you do, please contact me to let me know how it goes.

This article originally appeared as my Editor’s Note in GIVING TOMORROW magazine.