The Power of Silence, Part 1

NOTE: This post is an excerpt from a presentation I delivered at the Illumin8 AZ 8/8/2017 event.

Silence can be described in many ways: from awkward and uncomfortable to peaceful and contemplative. It can be used as a tool for listening or for quietly judging people. Silence is powerful because it can make us feel many different emotions.

So, what is silence? It might sound silly to ask such a simple question, but we might otherwise be taking silence for granted. Technically, silence is "the absence of sound." What makes it powerful is that it leaves us alone with our thoughts. What can be so bad about that?

Listening to and understanding our thoughts through extended times of silence can change our beliefs about ourselves and that can be uncomfortable. We like to believe that our thoughts are orderly and connected, but they rarely are. We can prove this to ourselves if we take the time to listen to our thoughts in silence.

This type of silent listening is a practice called mindfulness, which is commonly defined as "awareness of present experience with acceptance." Mindful meditation is scientifically proven to strengthen parts of the brain that lead to happiness and contentment. If you want to know more, then I highly recommend Ron Siegel's "The Science of Mindfulness" audio series as a starter.

Mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness, which is another one of those words we take for granted. To be mindless is to act without thinking. Acting without thinking does sometimes originate from expert knowledge. Most of the time, however, our actions are taken without intention.

Awareness is about slowing down and paying attention. Daniel Kahneman says "you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail." We cannot "pay" attention to our thoughts in silence unless we stop and ignore whatever else is happening around us.

Acceptance is having psychological flexibility. We understand the world using rules and beliefs we've formed through life experience. When an event violates those rules and beliefs, it causes cognitive dissonance and great emotional and mental discomfort. Psychological flexibility allows us to accept outrageous events without the need to be outraged.

Silence can help us to develop awareness and acceptance within ourselves and others. Comfort with silence means comfort with ourselves. Practicing silence leads us to value silence and not run from it or have a negative experience with it in conversation. I believe it is our inexperience with silence that makes us avoid it as much as possible.

Next time you experience an awkward or uncomfortable silence, use it as a reminder that you need some practice. If you need some methods or silence-related activities, reach out in the comments.

The Kensho Experience

Attending a course with us is a unique, immersive, and interactive experience. A lot of people ask about our semi-circular chair arrangement after checking our social media posts. "What is this Kensho thing?"

Well, it's hard to answer without attending, but I can at least highlight some key differentiators to give you an idea of what it's about:

  • We don't have students, we have participants.
  • We don't have a teacher, we have a facilitator.
  • Everyone teaches each other, everyone learns from each other.
  • It's as experiential as it is intimate as it is educational.
  • Participants get out of it what they put into it.

Our courses are like group therapy sessions in a professional context. There is a lot of silence because we spend a lot of time thinking. There is a lot of discussion, too, but it's largely about digesting the content. We process what we learn by sharing, interpreting, and even debating.

We offer optional (and highly recommended) meditation for 30 minutes before each session starts. We usually intentionally ask ourselves to do nothing in addition to breathing exercises, but we sometimes do loving kindness meditation.

Each session is approximately 2 hours of material, usually 50-70 slides containing quotes, bullets, and activities. Our activities are often group discussions (groups of 2, 3, 4, or the entire room), but sometimes require meditation, writing, analysis, and guesswork. It's almost never easy.

When I'm facilitating (not teaching!), I'd say I talk about 40% of the time and the remaining 60% of communication is from everyone else. Since I learn something new every session, it really is just as participatory for me as it is for anyone else.

There are times when people have their heads in their hands. There are times when people look lost. There are lots of laughs and smiles. Our sessions run the gamut. And every time I worry that the material was boring, I get feedback from someone saying, "That was my favorite session."

We also have had tacos, beer, soda, and water at every session, so there's that.

If you'd like to come by and check out a session in the Phoenix area or just want to talk about it, please drop us a line at (remove the hyphens).

Want Arguments or Outcomes?

We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.
— Anthony Damasio, Descartes' Error

It's hard not to get emotional in meetings. We can be interrupted, overruled, judged, outsmarted, muted, invited, rescheduled, replaced, uncredited, unrecognized, cancelled, acknowledged, ignored, celebrated, blamed, and more. After years and years of meetings, I decided to change my approach to them and the results have been liberating.

My change started with Damasio's quote above stating that people are not thinkers, but rather feelers with the capacity to think. To test his hypothesis in meetings at work, I started emotionally distancing myself when picking up on threats to stability and candor in the room. In other words, I shifted my role from "participant" in a meeting to "observing participant."

An Observing Participant

As an observing participant, I still cared about the results of a meeting, but became equally interested in observed behaviors. During verbal interruptions, there were noticeable changes in behavior, language/word choice, volume/tone of voice, and the physical posture of both the interruptor and interruptee. I noticed same during moments of correction (whether deserved, uninvited, or appreciated), recognition, and authoritative overruling. In the language of Crucial Conversations, I watched for "violent contributions" to the "shared pool of meaning."

Here's what I noticed: many people are more interested in argument than outcomes. Knowing that I have personally interrupted, overruled, judged, made great efforts to outsmart, muted, etc. others in meetings, I knew I needed to change my own behaviors. (Pro tip: Deciding to change lets you skip the brutal step of noting your own behaviors.)

Changing My Behaviors

Upon being interrupted, I shut my mouth and let the other person finish. It provided a great opportunity to ask myself whether I was taking the meeting off track. Rather than taking offense, I could see what the interruptor had to say and whether it had merit or was emotionally charged.

To prevent myself from interrupting others, I counted to 3 before speaking when in the room. When on the phone, I put my phone on mute and kept the phone locked and at an arm's length so I would have to unlock it and hit unmute before I could speak.

When judging others, I asked myself why I had a problem with someone else's behaviors. It's very rare to be in a meeting where I literally have no teammates, so why would I judge anyone in a meeting with me? It's my problem, not theirs. Meetings are forums for dialogue and decisions, not argument and winning.

When disagreeing with others, I asked questions to clarify my understanding. It was so easy to believe I was the only person with the right answer, especially in emotionally-vulnerable meeting moments. Usually, just a few minutes of keeping my mouth shut led to other people coming around to ideas that were usually better than the half-formed thing I had in my head.

Instead of providing input, I asked everyone else to provide input. More often than not, this made everyone feel included and someone would eventually ask me for my own input. This gave me an opportunity to be the last person in the room to speak and assess whether I had anything new to offer that hadn't already been said. I also could use that time to offer support to ideas already mentioned by others.

Instead of focusing on my personal opinions/objectives, I focused on outcomes. Outcomes matter more than the details that literally have no impact on a meeting, especially details relating to work I would personally not be doing. Most of the time I had an opinion, it was about some minor detail and not the big picture, anyway.

There are a lot of other personal behaviors I had to outsmart, but I'll save some time and skip to the results.


Tracking and preventing my own unhealthy professional behaviors helped me understand how poorly I often behaved in meetings. It was easy to think everyone else was the problem until I had my own personal scorecard. The following are some of the results of the behavior changes mentioned above.

As an observing participant, I became more concerned with the group of us getting along well and less concerned with getting my way. Everyone appeared happier or more satisfied at the end of the meeting, but that's purely speculative.

Shutting my mouth saved me embarrassment. It turns out that I'm not quite the expert I believed I was. Shutting up helped me to see the expertise in others.

Asking questions made others feel good and gave me an opportunity to see them shine. It felt so much better to be inclusive than to be right.

Observing behaviors gave me a list of behaviors to avoid: 

  • Speaking louder than others and steamrolling
  • Repetitive stuttering of the first word of a sentence
  • Not asking questions or including others
  • Getting offended at unexpected approaches
  • Talking too long or too often


What are some poor behaviors you've noticed in meetings and how do you think you can counter them in your own behaviors? Or, do you need help with this stuff? Let us know!

How to Handle Media Hypnosis and Cognitive Dissonance

This morning, I read an interview with a cognitive behavior professor named Steven Sloman (via Robert Cialdini) that hit me like a brick to the head.

The content of the article is fascinating and questions the assumptions and roots of our own intelligence. What "hit" me, however, was the bit at the end about personalized news feeds creating and reinforcing an intellectual echo chamber. More specifically, I was reminded that an episode of my favorite television show predicted this happening back in November 1967.

"Speed Learn" 

In this episode, the education process is televised to hypnotically indoctrinate viewers with new information. The process is called "Speed Learn" in which a three-year university-level history course is absorbed via three minutes of television. The protagonist of the show realizes this technology can be used for mass mind control and becomes determined to destroy the technology.

It is absolutely incredible to me that a 50-year-old television show so presciently predicted that we would have wholeheartedly bought into today's version of "Speed Learn." Instead of a television, we have computer screens. Instead of hypnosis-induced indoctrination, we have personalized social media and news feeds. We have access to information about nearly anything in the world at any moment and we are generally unqualified to evaluate that information--not to mention our inability to retain so much information accurately.

Fighting Cognitive Dissonance

In the aforementioned Sloman interview, he states, "Even if I want to understand what the other side sees, Google is constantly feeding me things I want to see." Effectively, he is saying that cognitive bias and cognitive dissonance are unavoidable for anyone consuming information and news on the internet. What are we to do?

Sloman says, "People who are more reflective are less susceptible to the illusion. There are some simple questions you can use to measure reflectivity. They tend to have this form: How many animals of each kind did Moses load onto the ark? Most people say two, but more reflective people say zero. (It was Noah, not Moses who built the ark.)" 

How do we become reflective? Self-awareness can come via internal audit exercises like thought labeling, mindfulness meditation, and separation of ourselves from our thoughts.

Try asking yourself some of these questions as you inform yourself.

  • From what sources do I receive information about the world around me?
  • Why do I assign these sources credibility?
  • How might these sources be providing bias?
  • How does my belief system about a topic lead me to believe the information I'm consuming?
  • Am I qualified to evaluate the information?


If you want to further your pursuit of this information, here are some resources we use in our Pause course:

We are offering self-awareness courses, too! You should sign up for one.

What to Consider Before Attending Pause

It isn't easy

Pause is not so much a training program as it is a transformation program. It's very challenging material and you really only get out of it what you put into it because, really, it's all about you. We can only show you aspects of yourself, but it's up to you to act on what is discovered and shown.

In fact, after a session of Pause, I'm often left stunned and bewildered at what took place in the group setting because I'm working through the same stuff as the participants. It is one of the most genuinely human and challenging environments in which I've had the pleasure of working. People in our sessions are authentic in their journey for self-awareness and improvement.

Whether I'm delivering Pause material in a one-on-one setting, a small team setting, or a larger group, we all are so engaged in learning, especially in those moments where a very tough question is asked or a tough reality is faced. It's an amazing experience.

It's uncomfortable

Several times through Pause we remind ourselves:

Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong. More often, people know what they are not good at—and even then more people are wrong than right. And yet, a person can perform only from strength.
— Peter Drucker's "Managing Oneself"

The hardest part about digesting that quote is understanding that you almost certainly do not know yourself nearly as well as you think you do. Module 1 of Pause is all about discovering and understanding yourself. We give you exercises and assessments that show you how you're intrinsically motivated.

It leaves us with the question: If we don't know much about ourselves, then what do we really know about anyone else?

It's legitimate work

Throughout Pause, we look at some of our most challenging relationships and professional speedbumps. We have open discussions about these situations and how we can make the most of our next opportunities to improve those challenging relationships and how to get out of the way of the speedbumps (which are usually ourselves, by the way).

You may walk away from a Pause session with more questions than answers, and that's a good thing. We want participants to investigate themselves, their biases, and their worldviews to ensure they are being respectful, humane, and genuine. As a facilitator, I do very little guiding and a lot of question-asking and when the group digs into a topic, it can get intense.

I really hope to meet you in a Pause course, or at least talk to you about it. Please reach out with any questions or leave a comment.

Want to Customize Pause?

We designed Pause with customization in mind. If you are interested in a special version of Pause that's tailored to your company or to a specific team, we are happy to work with you. Here are some customizations we've talked about internally:

In Your Office

Maybe you and your team aren't in Phoenix, Arizona. Or maybe you are. Either way, you want us to come on site to deliver Pause? No problem! There aren't any special requirements to keep the program bound to our office. If you've got a projector and screen, or a large television we can use, and a room with enough chairs, that's pretty much all we need. We'll bring our own gear, swag, and materials.

Customized Modules

The 5 modules in Pause are pretty generic so as to meet the widest audience possible. If you would like for us to tailor the program to your company or tie in specific aspects of your approach, we're pretty flexible about that. After we talk a little, we'll share our materials with you and ask you questions to ensure that we can modify Pause and still make it highly successful for you and your team.

Virtual/Online Delivery

While it is not an ideal scenario for us, we understand that there are a lot of distributed teams out there. That's cool with us! We are able to do virtual training, too. As long as everyone in the training is available at the same time, then we can do what we need. We're equipped with all the tech we need to deliver a successful virtual training experience.


If you're interested in helping us to deliver the Pause content, that's excellent! We think it's great that someone can be an internal ambassador and representative of the material. All we need to do is ensure we can remain highly aligned before, during, and after the delivery so as to ensure a great experience for you and your team.

Employers: Why Pause?

We've had a few people ask why a manager/boss should consider sending employees to our Pause program. The answer is fairly simple, but it's not brief.

Allen and I are both people managers. We've hired people in all sorts of fields at all levels of experience. Whether filling an entry-level, part-time role or a six-figure, senior-level role, we've found that skilled people are a dime a dozen. Great team members and solid communicators are much, much harder to find.

The availability of role-specific skills training materials is very high. A half hour on YouTube can teach you how to plumb a shower, balance a company budget, or build a fusion reactor in your backyard. However, the training that employees need to be mature and effective members of a team is not widely available.

Pause is a program written in collaboration with senior-level technicians and executives specifically to cover the "soft skill" mentorship that many employees lack and many mentors have trouble articulating and passing on. By cherry-picking the best and most relevant content from highly successful professional development books, we are able to save Pause participants years of frustration and searching for career goals and next-steps.

We initially created Pause to target high-potential employees and help fill in the "soft skill" gap. It turns out that the content of Pause is so potent, even the C-level folks in our pilot group found it eye-opening and applicable.

If you're an employer thinking about sending someone from your team/company our way, give us a call at (602) 999-1711 or send us an email at We've got great testimonials to share, too!

This class has helped me immensely understanding my values, the way I work, a deeper understanding of both my boss and company, and how to align not only to improve my work performance, but find incredible balance and peace within my work/family life. I have learned how to understand people and goals in a completely new way, and the group style and activities helped me express my ideas and goals in a safe comfortable environment. I have never been to a class where I did not have an ah-ha moment where the new lesson just appeared so clearly, and the amazing teacher worked well to make me feel like not only was I a student, but a living part of Kensho. I would highly recommend this program to companies as well as individuals seeking a higher understanding. I know I will take these lessons through my life.
— Carmen L.

"Your Feelings Are Wrong"

"Look straight ahead," Alexander Technique instructor Jim Coates said to me in November 2015.

"I am," I responded.

"No you're not."

"I'm not?"

"Your chin and nose are pointing above the horizon. They should be pointing straight ahead." Jim adjusted the position of my head on my neck so my head would be facing straight ahead.

"It feels like my chin is pushing my throat in."

"Well, you can't trust your feelings. Your feelings are wrong. You've trained yourself to believe what's wrong is right. Your head ain't straight, man."

I met Jim via an invitation from Zach Ferres at Coplex, which is a few buildings away from my full-time job at meltmedia in Tempe, AZ. Zach had found Alexander Technique to be life-changing, as had I thanks to a music instruction course where AT was demonstrated.

I'll never forget the conversation Jim and I had that day. While I may not recall it word-for-word, what's written above is pretty close.

Apparently, over 33 years I'd taught myself to lean my skull backward a few degrees. This might have been due to wearing glasses or some sort of vain attempt to conceal the appearance of a second chin. I nevertheless grew to believe that "straight ahead" was actually "a few degrees above the horizon."

Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong. More often, people know what they are not good at—and even then more people are wrong than right. And yet, a person can perform only from strength.
— Peter Drucker, "Managing Oneself"

What Jim ultimately taught me is that I can't truly trust my own feelings because my feelings may be provably wrong. Even something as simple as objectively understanding the position of my head on my neck was beyond me. It was astounding to realize that "straight ahead" wasn't straight ahead.

If I literally didn't have my head on straight, what else might I be misbelieving or misunderstanding? My interaction with Jim helped me to understand that even in a program like Pause, which I'd been writing for almost a year at that point, I was just as much a participant as anyone else who might go through it.

It's easy to listen to the ego and say, "I'm writing a professional development program," when the reality was that it was re-writing me.

Jim's statements that my "feelings are wrong" and that I can't trust them led to an incredible realization and a wonderful moment of correction. I'm grateful to Zach for connecting me with Jim that day and I'm grateful to Jim for setting my head on straight.