In business, communication silence is an often neglected yet powerful tool. Many people make the mistake of thinking they will get noticed, get ahead even, by speaking as much as possible, by offering opinions, sharing (showing off) knowledge or making suggestions.
When we look at developing our own or our colleagues’ communication skills we should consider not only focusing on voice projection, intonation, and choice of language but also on how we can incorporate the use of silence into our communication toolkit. Perhaps we need to focus as much on what we don’t as what we do say.
Below are some key situations where using silence can help you to become more effective.
Silence in presentations
When speaking in public it is natural to feel nervous and this can make us speed up our rate of speech and rush through our presentation to reach the end as quickly as possible. Slowing down our pace and introducing pauses, particularly after key messages, can give us greater credibility as a presenter and add impact to what we are saying. You may think that you keep your audience engaged by what you say but the careful use of silence, for example at the beginning of a presentation or before answering a question, can also help you to control the room and give you more gravitas.
Silence as a negotiation tool
When you are involved in a negotiation, silence can be a powerful stalling device. It may encourage the other party to say more than they planned to and will help you to avoid responding too quickly. Using silence can put you in a more powerful position and suggest that you do not need the deal as much as the other side needs it.
Silence improves creativity
If you are doing all the talking in meetings you are probably missing out on other people’s ideas. Consider putting yourself on pause and seeing what happens. Colleagues who normally stay quiet or feel they miss their moment will be more likely to speak out and you may also find that your team becomes more reflective and able to consider a wider range of alternatives.
Silence helps coaching
When coaching your employees or sharing feedback increasing your use of silence shows that you are really listening and attentive to what has been said. Pausing before responding shows that you are reflecting on how best to reply rather than rushing to verbalize what you have been thinking while your team member has been speaking. You will demonstrate that you respect the other person and value what they say.
Silence is essential when working internationally
When working with international colleagues and partners we need to remember that English may well not be their first language and they need additional time to process the messages they receive and to formulate their responses. Don’t be guilty of assuming that international colleagues are passive, disinterested, and lacking in ideas and opinions when in fact you have not given them the opportunity to express their views. Cross-cultural communication styles also come into play as in some cultures, for example in East Asia, silence has used a sign of respect.
So try to remember that silence can be more powerful than any words and you don’t always need to rush to fill the gaps. While we may find it awkward, silence, when used consciously and effectively, can enhance communication leading to stronger relationships, improved business results, and enhanced creativity.
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