The value of silence is an important topic we discuss with leaders who are seeking to improve their ability to engage others. Typically, they are quick to recognize the benefits of direct reports experiencing increased trust, empowerment, and self-motivation as well as the reduced stress and increased emotional intelligence for themselves.
Yet despite the benefits, they often push back about using this incredibly valuable leadership tool. Their primary reason? Silence feels awkward.
It’s true, silence can feel awkward; but this is one of the reasons it can be such a powerful tool. Silence gets people talking. The key is learning how to ensure the person talking is not you.
Comfort with silence is a learned skill that takes a goal, a plan, and effort. You can increase your comfort with silence by incorporating these four strategies:
Notice when you could be talking less
If you’re not yet ready to incorporate silence into your conversations, try becoming more conscious about the amount you’re talking and look for opportunities to allow a beneficial pause. Becoming aware of how much you do talk might be a motivator to embrace the awkwardness you feel when you don’t talk.
Add a couple of seconds
When you’re not comfortable with silence, two seconds can feel like an eternity. Instead of jumping to fill the silence as soon as it feels awkward, silently count to one or two before you start talking. Build slowly and before you know it you’ll be able to sit comfortably for minutes without saying anything at all.
Embrace the awkwardness
Feeling uncomfortable is a sign of an opportunity for personal growth. You’re not growing when you’re comfortable. When remaining silent feels awkward, remind yourself that you’re doing the hard work of self-improvement.
Reflect on the benefits
Take the opportunity to sit in silence and think about what has happened when you allowed others the opportunity to speak. Perhaps you have learned something new; heard others develop an idea that might not have otherwise occurred to them; or watched individuals create their own goals. Such reflections can motivate you to keep pushing through any discomfort.
Set a goal to become completely comfortable with silence. Once you’ve mastered it, celebrate your success and then take some quiet time to find the next opportunity to enhance your leadership skills.