The Power of Silence in Conversation

Posted on September 3, 2018

This article highlights key findings that show that simply allowing more time and space in conversations would actually go a long way in fueling more conversation.

Developmental psychology in the acquisition of language abilities in children have found that early exposure to language greatly aids in language development. In fact, children who are not exposed to language during the early “critical age” for language development end up having significant language impairment later on in life even if they spend the rest of their life learning the language. However, not all language exposure is created equal – advancements in language abilities seem to be aided by engaging the child in conversation, and not simply talking to the child. When a child is allowed the time and space to voice out their opinions and be heard while hearing what others are saying, it greatly aids in their acquisition of the language.

This carries implications for the classroom environment. Ironically, teachers who try to hurry classroom discussions by getting students to answer questions quickly or to bolster students’ confidence via speaking up may actually hinder productive classroom interactions. A study on classroom interactions between teachers and students found that teachers usually only give a second or less for a student to react and wait even lesser to offer their own reply after the student stops speaking. However, when the wait time was increased to 3 seconds or more, the results showed increases in the length of the response offered by the student, number of questions and spontaneous contributions by students, student confidence, use of evidence to back their opinions and furthered classroom discussion.

Interestingly, the study also found that when teaches are not consciously paying attention to their wait time, they gave more time to students they considered to be the top performers in class which could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby because they (unconsciously) expected more from these top-performing students, they gave these students more time to think and present their arguments which in turn fuels their continuous improvements in language and cognitive ability.

Hence, it could really be true that “two brains are better than one” – we can produce more quality work and conversation, if only we could allow more time for others to think and collect their thoughts before engaging.

Category(s):Other, Self-Confidence

Source material from Psychology Today

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