I’ve just returned from a silent retreat. Wait, wait, come back…
I, like Fleabag, thought, ‘a silent retreat, God help us’. In the high-octane world of the creative industry and, quite honestly, with a load of other shit going on, I felt I needed to get away. But silence? That’s a bit extreme.
However, it looked idyllic and the itinerary had walks and yoga listed: not cutting the grass with nail scissors or polishing parquet floors.
So I went. And I returned with a huge appreciation of silence.
In our daily lives, we are constantly engaging with people whether we like it or not. Nodding as we pass a neighbour in the communal hallway. Sending messages as we walk to the station. Squashing onto the tube, cheek by jowl while desperately avoiding eye contact. Greeting work mates as you sit at your desk. Meetings where people are talking over each other, not listening, having a strop. Sending passive aggressive emails, sending emails just saying ‘thanks!’, sending links, sending, sending, sending.
What happens when you have none of that? Unsurprisingly, the silence is uncomfortable, awkward and amusing at first. But it soon becomes soothing. It means it doesn’t matter where you sit at the dinner table, because you don’t need to make small talk to the person next to you, you don’t have to listen to that person drone on and on about themselves, you don’t have to wait for a gap in conversation to say something witty. You can just be. Do what you want, when you want, how you want. It’s a total social equaliser and completely liberating.
Can we take any of this into our meeting rooms? Obviously, communication is key to any working environment. A meeting where everyone is silent won’t achieve anything. But could we speak more sparingly, consciously, concisely? Treat our words like they’re a rare commodity?
If this feels like wishful thinking, maybe there are some quiet moments that you can take within the working day. We all have an hour for lunch. Let’s use it! And a shorter lunch should allow you 20-25 minutes to play with in the afternoon. You could use that time to meditate or use the ‘pomodoro’ technique throughout the day, breaking your time into 25 minute blocks, followed by 5 minute breaks. In giving (or gifting, eye roll) yourself a bit of silence, you will also become more switched on and productive.
Or, get yourself to a silent retreat and it will do you wonders.
And needless to say, once the 48 hours of silence was over, we couldn’t wait to talk to each other.
Francesca Chang, Senior Account Director