The other day I ran into a fellow who is the reluctant president of a board that I’m on. He’s an accomplished individual but rather quiet and reserved by nature. I don’t think he enjoys his leadership role but I used this chance encounter to ask again about a pending issue for the board to resolve.
I calmly stated my position, asking for time for us to consider this thorny issue. He did not respond and the “deer in the headlights” look on his face made me want to drop the subject and move on with my day.
But instead, I maintained a neutral look on my face and just calmly waited for his response in silence. After this awkward silence, he agreed to call me that evening and he did.
I raise this issue because it reflects a very powerful element of communicating: the use of silence in a productive and purposeful manner.
Here are 5 reasons that you should consider using silence to everyone’s advantage in a communication “vibration”.
1. A most useful communication tool.
The more a man speaks, the less he is understood. – Abraham Lincoln
In communicating, it’s been shown that words account for 10% of what’s expressed, vocal tone and pace 35%, and nonverbal communication a whopping 55%.
Silence is a critical aspect of nonverbal communication and I would say it is vastly underutilized. You can say a lot by saying nothing and we’ll discuss that in more detail.
2. Allows you to think, breathe, listen and hold the attention of the listener.
Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence. – Leonardo da Vinci
When it’s your time to speak, pausing before you respond gives you some time to gather your thoughts, choose your words, and heighten the expectation of others about what you may be prepared to say.
I’m not suggesting you delay to build suspense, but instead of blurting out a top of mind response, it reflects a deeper, more thoughtful response on your side.
I am reminded of asking my Father questions at the dinner table as we used to have some interesting dialogues growing up.
When my brother was about six, he declared that he knew a million facts. My father paused and asked him if he knew about some random topic. My brother paused, considered my Father’s question and quietly responded, “Well, that’s not one of them!” and proceeded to quietly eat his dinner.
I thought my parents were going to convulse with laughter but it’s a perfect example of this effect.
3. Allows others to invest in your ideas.
When you pause before responding to a direct question or after you have posed a question to the group or another team member, you allow others to process what you have said and consider their response.
It gives everyone time to step back and reflect on how what’s been said affects them, their team and the organization.
It also projects confidence on your part that you refuse to be rushed by circumstances.
4. Always seems longer than it is.
In today’s world of instantaneous communication, we’re consistently bombarded with texts, email, and information that flows from a constant connection to the Internet.
It’s a tsunami of distractions and impulses that we willingly allow to overwhelm us. So the idea of literally stopping that rush and pausing, even for effect, is becoming even more foreign to us.
But if you recognize that someone you respect seems to be able to use this tool effectively, I suggest that you count how long they wait before they respond and I think you’ll see that it is often 15 seconds or less.
You’re probably saying 15 seconds doesn’t seem like a very long time because you’re right. But in today’s world of lightning-fast connections, it may seem like an eternity.
5. Results in others expressing themselves.
Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer. – Muhammad Ali
In my interaction with my fellow board member, I literally went through the mental process of telling myself not to respond and to wait him out for his reaction.
Very often when we see someone hesitating or uncomfortable, we will often rush in to “rescue them”.
This is a noble sentiment but we lose the opportunity to use some positive leverage to encourage them to state their case. We do not purposely try to inflict any additional angst on their part, but you are just giving them the time and space to encourage their response to you.
Now during this time you wait, you need to ensure that you maintain a neutral to positive nonverbal effect in your facial expressions. Do not glare, raise your eyebrows or appear too eager or anxious for the response. You are simply investing some time for them to provide their best perspectives to you. Relax.
- Do I have the patience and confidence to pause for effect before responding?
- Have you observed others who seem to use silence effectively? Are you willing to time how long they are silent before responding to get a sense of how short a time it takes to be impactful?
- Can you avoid trying to “rescue” another during an awkward pause to allow them time to gather themselves for their response?
I look forward to your thoughts and comments.