A couple of weeks ago I finally went to my first live NBA game.
As the saying goes, it just wasn’t like it was on TV.
What struck me most was the stimulus. The zinging advertising, prime NYC hiphop being cranked up for every play, announcements for every successful shot, breakdancers on the court at every time-out; all this didn’t come through when watching at home.
But every so often the music and announcements stopped and all that could be heard was the bouncing of the ball and the squeaking of players’ shoes on the parquet floor.
For a few seconds the arena was quiet. Despite the only sounds being those most appropriate, those of the game itself, the silence felt strange. It didn’t feel right.
Then the Nets landed a 3 pointer sponsored by Honda and all was well with the world again.
The next day I was in a meeting. There were a few people in the room discussing a project.
When one of the attendees was asked for their thoughts, they would take a deep breath and sit silently, looking into the middle distance for seemed an age before responding. The third time this happened I counted how long the silence was. It was a bit unnerving.
10 seconds, more or less.
It seemed like forever. People shuffled in their seats. Was this person ok? Did they need a glass of water?
And this was after 10 seconds of quiet while someone took the time to collect their thoughts.
I’ve experienced this same feeling recording podcasts, and they’re not even broadcast live. As a host I’ve had to learn to enjoy the silence and encourage guests to do the same. Despite the luxuries of editing, we’re still predisposed to fill the silence with something…anything.
You’ve probably heard the term ‘uncomfortable silence’.
Today it’s easy for us to feel every silence is uncomfortable. In our always-on world we’re just not used to it.
Of course, at the Brooklyn Nets game the silence probably does tend to lessen the experience – we are there to be entertained, to be drawn into the theatre of the game from start to finish, to be transported somewhere else.
But because popular culture teaches us this, we get afraid of silence in other parts of life.
It’s worth thinking about when silence is valuable.
When it can add something to an experience, help create a better feeling in a room, allow time for your best thinking to manifest, or just give more time for someone else to do the same.
And figuring that out is definitely worth more than 10 seconds of quiet contemplation time, whether or not it makes people shuffle in their seats.