“Emotional entrainment is the heart of influence.” -Daniel Goleman
We live in a culture that is constantly pushing answers at us all day long. No sooner do you share something troubling you with a friend when that friend is offering all sorts of advice, sometimes before you’ve even finished your story. We’re taught that to care about someone means to help solve their problems. But what if that weren’t true? Did you ever think that your mere presence could be enough?
Recently I’ve been studying a concept called entrainment. The word “entrain” means to pull along after itself, like a series of box cars on a track. In a nutshell, it’s a naturally occurring phenomenon of energy in which we pull each other in synch, given proximity. It was discovered by a seventeenth century clockmaker named Christian Huygens who invented the pendulum clock. He would leave his studio only to find all the pendulums swinging in unison, despite his purposefully not setting them that way.
You might not realize your energy works like that, but it does. If you have a friend who is upset or sick, you can comfort that person simply by sitting near them and maintaining a state of peace. Can you imagine how much better that friend would feel, compared to a visit by someone who spoke ceaselessly and advised them on all the things they needed to do to solve their problems?
Sometimes talking is overrated.
As my grandfather progressed through his nineties, his hearing became quite poor. It became frustrating for both of us to try and have conversations like we used to, so instead I would just sit with him, smile at him and make funny faces, which he would return. One of my favorite dinners we had was one where it was just the two of us, slowly making our way through three courses without much talking, just smiling, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
A really cool thing about entrainment is that it works just as well on yourself as on others. With practice, you can slow yourself down, open your heart and surround yourself with peace whenever you wish. You can train your heart to lead your mind, instead of the other way around.
Gandhi understood the power of silence so much that he devoted every Monday to it. He believed not speaking made him a better listener and brought him more inner peace. While that ideal may be out of the reach of most of us from a practical standpoint, we can each consciously scale back our typical commentary. For example, the next time you’re with a friend, instead of diving in with a similar example or unsolicited solution, just empathize. Say, “Wow you must have been so surprised,” or “Gee that sounds rough.” You may find there is a lot more your friend would like to say, given the space. And you may find you’re able to be more present by simply listening, instead of waiting to speak.
Barbara Wayman, APR