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"Being comfortable in silence": Lessons for Living, by Dr Neil Thompson

Life is never without its challenge, but there is always the opportunity to learn and grow from those demands made on us. Dr Neil Thompson offers advice to tackle these problems and help social workers and care professionals to realise their potential.

07/03/22

"Being comfortable in silence": Lessons for Living, by Dr Neil Thompson

In working with people, emotions are never very far away. Being able to tune in to other people’s emotions, to be aware of our own and get the balance of head and heart right is often referred to as ‘emotional intelligence’.

A key part of this is being able to tolerate silences. When someone is distressed or otherwise in the grip of strong emotions, they may fall silent, and that silence can feel very uncomfortable for us.

We can be very tempted to jump in and ask a question or just fill the gap in some way.

Understandable though this may be, it can be quite problematic because we are, in effect, giving the person concerned the message that dealing with our own discomfort is more important than giving them the emotional space they need.

If we are able to resist the temptation of filling the silence, we give the much more positive and supportive message that we are there for them, that they are not facing their difficulties unsupported. And what an important message that can be.

Dr Neil Thompson is an independent writer, educator and adviser and a visiting professor at the Open University. His books include How to Survive in Social Work (with John McGowan) and The Managing Stress Practice Manual. He is also the Vice President of Vigoroom UK, a sophisticated employee wellness platform designed to help create happier and healthier workplaces: www.vigoroom.co.uk.

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