In business, allow silence and space – that’s the communication magic

By JJ Rosen October 30, 2023
In business, allow silence and space. That's the communication magic

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

I’m a big music fan. Rock, country, jazz, soul—I pretty much like it all.

But my favorite style of music is one that’s less popular, but for those who are into it, has an almost religious appeal.

I found myself last weekend in Louisiana for the first annual “New Orleans Funk Festival.”  Three solid days of funk, the music I love the most, was in the air. For die-hard funk fans like me, we often claim that you can not only hear funk, but when a great funk band is jamming you can feel it (and even smell it.)

Funk fans are hard core. We worship artists like James Brown, The Meters, Sly and the Family Stone, and Parliament Funkadelic.  And we will travel great distances to gather around a pulpit with our fellow followers to nod our heads to irresistible beats.

It was a great weekend with artists like Ivan Neville, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band to name a few. Great weather, great food, and a great vibe—it felt like funk heaven.

So, what’s so special about this music style?

For me, funk is unique because the notes that aren’t played are equally as important as the one’s that you hear.

Musicians often refer to it as the “space between the notes.”  It’s the split second pauses that are both unexpected and satisfying. This subtle spacing makes a funk song funky and keeps band members from playing over each other.  The spacing allows every instrument to be heard.

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I was thinking about this when I returned to the real world Monday.

“Leaving space,” as simple as it sounds, is a concept that’s often undervalued in a work setting.

Unlike a funk tune, staying silent in the workplace is often perceived as not contributing. Even if you have nothing to add, either in a meeting or on an email chain, staying silent at work carries with it the risk of being deemed irrelevant.

But, like a great funk band, teams that give each other “space between the notes” not only communicate better, but ultimately can help an entire company.

What does this mean exactly?

In the workplace, giving space requires everyone to be comfortable allowing a co-worker to take the glory (or the solo in musical terms) when it helps the team reach its goals.  It means establishing a culture where there’s no shame for those who keep quiet when they don’t have anything to add.  And, it means communicating in a way that allows everyone who does have an opinion the space to share it.

At its core, leaving space between the notes is about valuing listening as much as talking.  It’s about communicating in a healthy way.

Good communication, whether on stage, in a conference room, or on a Zoom call, is critical in work endeavors. Whenever I’m in a conversation or meeting that’s funky, it feels like I am collaborating in a fun and respectful way that resolves the issues at hand as a team.

Work may be the last place most people think of as “funky.” But embracing funk music’s principals can change that for any company. For me when the funk groove happens at work, as the great funkster James Brown says, “I feel good!”

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