Tuesday April 22, 2014
During a recent ‘Difficult Conversations’ session with one of our Purple Cubed experts we were talking about tricks and techniques to facilitate challenging encounters. A consistent theme throughout the day was the importance of embracing and harnessing silence to ensure you give yourself the best possible chance of providing a calculated and well thought out response. Silence isn’t something we often observe in meetings, presentations and the like. Perhaps because silence is perceived to be negative and/or awkward. And human nature advocates that we’re constantly communicating and ‘filling the gaps’. However, silence can be extremely powerful in the context of business and here’s why:
1. Silence can make you come across as more credible
Pausing before responding to a tricky question shows you’re committed to thinking about a worthy response, as opposed to simply second guessing what the recipient wants to hear. Also, as Jon Steinberg, President of BuzzFeed states in his blog ‘The Importance of Silence in Business’, silence prevents you from stating an ill formed or incorrect thought. Ask yourself what’s worse: embracing silence whilst you contemplate a planned response, or diving in just to appease the receiver with a muddled nervous answer (and possibly over promising in the process)? It’s all straight forward stuff, and silence can be the most powerful response if you don’t have one at all.
However, should you really be stumped by a question a period of silence will illustrate a deep thought and you’ll be well respected for holding your hands up and saying ‘I just don’t know the answer to that’. And it’s worth pointing out that during this ‘thinking time’ try and resist the urge to ‘um’ and ‘er’ your way through as the noise may make it seem more comfortable, but ultimately this just comes across confused and unsure.
2. Less is more
Whether in the context of delivering presentations or having a one-to-one meeting, if you’ve asked a question, just wait….and wait….and wait for an answer. Don’t rephrase it (unless you really feel people are perplexed by it), just stay calm and wait for someone to respond which they invariably will. In his blog ‘The Effective Use of Silence’ Alex Lickerman recalls a time he was in a seminar and the presenter did just that: “If you can become comfortable waiting, you can make very effective use of silence”. Ultimately we should all leverage silence to ‘create positive value’ instead of just assuming that filling the gaps is the right thing to do.
3. Silence exudes positive personality traits
People always want to feel that they’ve been listened to, and more importantly understood. Silence gives you the opportunity to think about and pose yet more questions which show you comprehend what the recipient is saying and come across as ‘powerfully charismatic’. What’s more, silence (amongst other traits of course) illustrates a degree of self-control and discipline which people will levitate towards and will increase your chances of cementing lasting working relationships and becoming a trusted advisor.
Although it may well be a big shift in your normal behaviour, starting to embrace silence in a situation where you’d usually react with words could be hugely beneficial to both your credibility and confidence. Initially it will no doubt be a conscious thought: ‘I need to think about this silently for as long as I need before I respond succinctly with a worthwhile response’ which may be easier said than done (or thought in this case), but after a period of time it could become a subconscious trait which is ingrained in your everyday behaviour and therefore becomes effortless.
What’s your view on silence within a meeting context? Have you ever been put in a position where you’ve felt awkward during a silence?