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Is Silence Still Golden?

There are moments in life when nothing will serve you as well as silence.

Our busy, frenzied, hurry-up-and-get-it-done society doesn’t seem to agree. But we can and should enable moments of silence when they are needed. Consider these opportunities to promote silence:

In a business meeting Watch what happens the next time you’re in a training session or a business meeting. Every time someone asks a question, there will be a brief (very brief!) pause before someone responds. This will happen no matter how complex the question is, no matter how worthy of time and thought it may be. Sometimes, the person posing the question will be the one most uncomfortable with the silence. He or she will rephrase the question or answer it for the audience instead of allowing time for others to process their thoughts before answering. In a business meeting or training session, isn’t there supposed to be some thinking? But if someone is always talking and introducing more new information, how can anyone really think?

In a Negotiation – Professional sellers learn how to pause and allow silence once they have proposed a sale. They know that they can un-sell their prospect by over-talking. This is true in any negotiation, even one as simple as deciding which restaurant you and your partner will dine in this Friday night. Once you put your request on the table, stop talking.

The power of silence in a negotiation is captured nicely in a flashback scene in the movie Godfather II. In this scene, the young Vito Corleone is approached by a landlord who offended Vito by refusing to allow an evicted woman to return to her apartment with her son and dog. The landlord has since learned that Vito is a powerful man, not someone whose request he should have refused. In this scene, the landlord says has changed his mind. He wants to hear he is forgiven and all is well. Instead, he is met by complete silence while the Godfather (Vito) thinks it over. Uncomfortable in the silence, the landlord rushes ahead to sweeten his offer – not only will be accept the tenant back, along with her son and dog, but he will also keep the rent the same instead of raising it. This is met by another uncomfortable silence. Again, the landlord interprets the silence as a refusal of his offer so he talks again, lowering the rent and showing his fear and desperation.

How often do we allow silence to make us sweat? Why do we assume that others’ silence is an indictment or a lack of acceptance? Why don’t we let them refuse or counter-offer before we race ahead? This one-sided approach assumes the worst instead of respecting silence for what it usually is – an indication that others are thinking.

In a Moment When You Need Centering – In the heat of a moment, bite your tongue! Your silence can save you from saying something you don’t mean and can’t take back. Use silence to ponder the relationship you have, the value of the other person to you, your own dignity, the way you would feel if someone said to you what you are about to say to them. While silent, you might even use the good old standbys of counting to 10 or taking a few deep breaths. The silence you create to allow yourself to re-center and focus on what really matters is a gift to yourself because it gives you more options than allowing an emotion-driven response will give you.

In Listening – Real, true, active listening (which goes well beyond mere hearing) requires you to be silent. When you race to respond in a point/counterpoint fashion, you are thinking about what you will say instead of listening to what the other person is saying. When you interrupt because you hear something familiar, you are not fully listening to what has been said nor to what was about to be said. When you try to fill in all the milliseconds of silence, you are missing the opportunity to listen for context, feelings, and follow-ups. Without meaning to, you might be conveying that you think your own thoughts are more important than the other person’s. A pause that encourages someone to continue is so much more meaningful than your hasty response. A pause that shows you are carefully considering what you’ve heard before you reply means you think the speaker’s thoughts are worth hearing and that the speaker, too, is worthy of your time and attention.

In many ways, silence is golden. Silence can give us an opportunity to form deeper, more meaningful connections with others. Those connections are every bit as precious as gold.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalAs a leader, it’s imperative to understand why and how to show ever person that you care about them. Learn more about how you can CONNECT2Lead. And be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog for weekly tips and techniques on leading with a people first approach.


Topics: active listening, communication, CONNECT2LEAD Blog, Featured on Home Page, negotiating, networking

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