"Jazz is composed on a foundation of silence," said Daniel Reynolds.
"And so is conversation," I suggested.
Daniel is a wonderful young jazz pianist who plays with us every Sunday morning at Brentwood Presbyterian Church, where I minister part-time. He and his Dad, Rick Reynolds, are helping me dig more deeply into the dynamics of jazz as I hone my understanding of the parallels with conversation. We get together in their music room, listen to some of their favourite musicians, and talk about what's going on in the performance.
The idea of jazz being built on silence was intriguing. I knew Miles Davis talked about the importance of silence in jazz, but this shift in perspective - to seeing it built on a foundation of silence - provoked the following reflections.
1. You can fill silence with significance.
We tend to see most conversations as a process of call and response. Someone speaks and another responds. The focus is on the sound, and the nature of the response is often shaped by the tone of that sound. If it is harsh and critical, the response too often will be equally harsh and defensive. A distance is created and the space between the conversants is filled with tension.
But the same process can be seen differently if you take a moment prior to the call or the response (whichever is yours to voice) and realize that you are speaking into silence rather than sound. There is a clean canvas, to mix the metaphor. Whatever significance arises from the integrated energy of your soul will fill that silence. If your contribution is positive and harmonious, it can reshape the tone of the whole conversation.
2. Curiosity creates space in the silence for others to enter.
Instead of contending or criticizing, be curious as you reshape the conversation. Asking what the other person thinks, or inviting them to say more about what they have just said, invites them to fill the silence with their significance. It indicates that you are interested in what they have to say and are holding space in the silence for their views.
Now, to do this with integrity, you must be ready and willing to listen to what they say, to what they contribute in the silence. But seeing the process built on silence, rather than on the sound that preceded it, enhances the possibility that you will be open to hearing afresh what is being said. And that's the key - being open to listening to what the other wants heard.
3. Become comfortable leaving silence for consideration.
Most people become uncomfortable with silence after 3 seconds. At the same time, most people take 10-15 seconds to process what they have just heard. That would suggest to me that we would all do well to become more comfortable with silence as space for consideration throughout a conversation. It's a matter of pacing and rhythm. Slow it down to allow deeper significance to emerge.
For me, consideration happens when we take/allow the space/silence to enable our intellect, emotions, and instincts to align into wisdom. It's not a matter of silencing one and honouring the other, but of listening to all of them in their aligned wisdom. That's another huge shift in our normal practice.
You can model this practice. Few people will deny you the opportunity to take a moment to think about what has just been said. Focus on the silence you are about to fill with significance. Consider the significance you want to contribute. Compose the most positive and harmonious way to fill the silence. Chances are good that you will fill the silence with value and meaning, providing a model for others to follow.
This is just what has come up for me in the last week or so as I pondered Daniel's insight. I thought you might enjoy hearing Daniel fill silence with his music. This clip captures much of what I've been trying to find words to say. It's an original composition done for the 2012 Oscar Peterson Grant for Jazz Performance from the Hnatyshyn Foundation.
And if you think Jazzthink might offer some coaching, or a keynote or workshop, to help you fill the silence with SMARTer conversations, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.