On a cool spring morning with the sun just breaking through the early morning mist and a loon calling to welcome the day, I asked my dad, “When will we start catching fish?” He put his finger to his lips and my uncle leaned over and whispered, “Silence is golden.”
When you’re nine years old, silence is definitely not golden. Only now do I appreciate the wisdom of the lesson they were trying to teach me and its applicability beyond catching fish.
Many of the challenges our clients face revolve around communication – not enough, too much, misunderstood, to name a few and they often push back when we suggest that less talking may improve communication.
Psychologist Dr. Albert Mehrabian popularized the concept that 93% of communication is nonverbal or silent. In his research, Mehrabian found that words convey only seven percent of our message, while the rest of communication occurs through body language, tone, facial expressions and gestures.
If most communication is nonverbal, doesn’t it make sense that silence can be a good technique? Here are three ways silence can make you a better communicator:
CREATE WITH SILENCE
If you are dominating the conversation during meetings, you are probably missing out on good ideas. Use silence to make room for others to express themselves. Those who generally stay quiet, perhaps feeling they cannot get a word in edgewise, will be more likely to contribute.
You may also find that your team becomes more reflective and able to consider a wider range of alternatives when you use silence.
COACHING WITH SILENCE
We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Use silence while coaching your employees or sharing feedback. It is a great way to demonstrate that you are listening and that you care about what they are saying.
Pausing before you answer shows that you are attending to and reflecting upon what has been said. A quick response suggests you have been thinking about what you want to say while your team member has been speaking.
Very often when we see someone hesitating or becoming uncomfortable, we will rush to rescue them. How often are we actually rescuing ourselves? It takes courage and patience to give individuals the time they need to express themselves fully, especially when they are nervous or shy.
Resist the urge to be noble. You demonstrate that you respect the other person and value what they say when you refrain from finishing their sentences for them. We are not trying to cause them additional angst, but are giving them the time and space to respond in their own words. While you are waiting, maintain neutral facial expressions and body language, without glaring, fidgeting or checking the time. Think of the exercise as an investment in the person to whom you are speaking.
In the office, communication often becomes a competition rather than an exchange of ideas. The goal becomes to get the last word or to have your view win, instead of sharing ideas.
Silence is a tool for effective communication; if you use it you will avoid some of the damaging mistakes we often make. When you sincerely care about what the other person has to say and honor them by listening carefully, the results will be golden.