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Why Silence Is Critical to Good Business Collaboration

Business collaboration is now considered the path to innovation, and as a result, companies do everything they can to ensure communication is constant, teams are always connected and doors remain open to every idea. Work follows employees everywhere through mobile, cloud-based technology, and the office itself is designed to increase opportunities for collaboration to happen.

In an effort to maximize collaboration, employees and employers are facing a future of always-on business, but companies overlook just how golden silence still is. In fact, according to chronemics expert and 2015 Collabosphere speaker Dawna Ballard, Ph.D., silence is critical to good business collaboration.

Why Silence Makes Good Business Sense

So how does silence get businesses to better collaboration?

For one, time management is an illusion, and the most productive way to work is by managing attention, according to Ballard. In order for this to happen, workers need more choice in collaboration.

Too often, communication practices and tools leave employees feeling out of control of their workday, hijacking energy and focus. If companies simply give workers the option to say no to some of the oncoming messages and requests, at least temporarily, workers regain control of their own attention management.

“Sometimes we forget the old-fashioned phone ring or door bell and how we used to actually make decisions about whether we would answer the door or pick up the phone,” Ballard said. “We’ve forgotten that.”

Plus, contemplation is just part of the collaboration process. Workers need time to thoughtfully listen and process information, as well as reboot from the constant rush of communication.

“In an organization where they instituted quiet time—where just one hour in the day no interruptions were allowed, you worked on your own projects, everyone worked on their own, they didn’t interrupt, they didn’t email—one hour, people got more done,” Ballard said.

Shutting Down Always-on Business

“Good collaboration requires some downtime, some off time, some slow time,” Ballard said, but vacation time doesn’t count. Downtime needs to happen during the flow of work.

To shut down the always-on business for moments of silence, employees need more autonomy to choose how and when they communicate, as well as time for contemplation. This can happen on an individual level, but if business collaboration is truly important, companies should consider top-down initiatives to empower employees with silence.

Create a system to decide how, when and why workers will attend to communication and collaboration. Everything is not urgent. Retrain workers on how to most productively use technology with reasonable guidelines to reply to notifications, instant messages and emails so they don’t feel compelled to reply to everything immediately.

Give employees permission to close doors and shelve devices. Workers need quite time to research and reboot in order to return to collaboration with new ideas and productive energy. Institute a no-email work hour, set aside phones and tablets in a meeting, close the door to one-on-one meetings or even create an hour where everyone in the office puts earbuds in to work in silence.

“In an always-on business environment, the idea of silence is addictive,” Ballard said.

As businesses learn more about the value of collaboration, their understanding of the collaboration process needs to evolve, as well. Collaboration is much more complex than simply flipping a switch on and actually requires more variety in the way workers communicate to really thrive.

What Ballard coins “Choosing” and “Contemplating” are only two of four time-space communication genres employees need to both create alignment for themselves and work as efficiently as possible with others. Find out what the rest of Ballard’s collaboration playlist includes by accessing the free Collabosphere webcast for the full presentation.

Play the webcast

About Ashley Speagle

Ashley Speagle is a Florida-born, Georgia-raised communications specialist, couch movie critic, dream interpreter, acrophobic adventure seeker, outdoors enthusiast, and easy-going introvert.

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