Uncomfortable Silences

Uncomfortable Silences
June 21, 2016 UcheOfodile
In Inspire, Lead, Learn

Are you comfortable with silence? It’s something that I struggled with for many years. A few examples:

If I gave an answer to a question and my boss didn’t say anything right away, I would keep talking and talking, assuming that perhaps I hadn’t said enough and needed to say more. Many times, my additional sentences added no value and I ended up rambling or saying things I shouldn’t have. Today, I know better. When I answer a question, I will say nothing else unless there is a follow up question.

A few months ago, I was in the middle of a tense negotiation, with the other party insisting they had made their best offer. I asked them to throw in a couple of extra items. I didn’t explain why I needed them nor did I profess how great it would be if they could make it happen. I just asked and kept quiet. Their initial answer: I don’t think so. After about 10 seconds of silence, they said let’s look into it and come back to you. I got my extra items.

A few years ago, I started having a meeting every week with the entire team (at the time about 50 people) During this meeting, I would for the most part listen to everyone else, ask a few questions and then wrap up at the end. I am sure a lot of people wondered why I didn’t speak more but what it did for me was invaluable. It allowed me to get a better sense of the team dynamics, who was doing what, who needed attention. If I was doing all the talking, I would have lost that opportunity to have a better understanding of the team and drive the right actions.

We are often too uncomfortable with silence and try to fill silences when we should be listening or just simply waiting for the follow up. The listening or waiting can be difficult (and sometimes I still have to pinch myself not to say a word) but you should practice this. As they say, in negotiations, he who speaks first loses!

More importantly, the art of listening is a key leadership skill. Believe me, everyone loves a great listener. Just make sure you back it up with actions!

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