Silence: A Tool For Deeper Conversations

I don’t know why so many people are uncomfortable with silence. They feel a deep-seated need to fill any gap in the conversation, even if their comments aren’t well considered or useful. They can’t seem to help themselves if the other person is quiet. Anything seems better than silence.

They prompt, interject or answer their own questions and consequently miss out on important information. For example:

Owner: “I’d like to discuss the future of our business. I’ve thought about who could take over and I wonder if you’ve considered buying me out?”

Employee: “Well, (pause…)”

Owner: “It’s a great business and I’d like to see it continue.”

Employee: “Yes, (pause…)”

Owner: “But if you haven’t thought much about it, maybe you could, you know, think about it.”

Employee: “Sure. Ok.”

Owner: “Ok, well let’s chat again soon.”

Here’s another way this conversation could go:

Owner: “I’d like to discuss the future of our business. I’ve thought about who could take over and I wonder if you’ve considered buying me out?”

Employee: “Well, (pause…)”…I have to admit, I have wondered about what you were going to do.”

Owner: “Oh?” (pause…)

Employee: “I guess we’ve all been wondering how long you could keep up the pace.”

Owner: “And?” (pause)

Employee: “I don’t know if it would work, but I’m wondering if you would consider an employee share ownership plan. I’ve done some reading about it and I’ve talked with a few guys.  We think it might be a way to keep things going without looking for an outside buyer.”

That’s the beginning of a much richer conversation. Pausing and allowing silence for a few moments; listening to the words; watching the body language; and respecting the other person enough to give them time to think, opens up the dialogue. You’ll be surprised at what people will tell you when you give them a chance.

Improve your communication skills with silence:

  • Develop an insatiable curiosity. Expect that you can learn something of interest and value from everyone with whom you have a conversation. Listen for the nuggets. Listen with empathy. Listen to understand – not just the words, but also the underlying meaning and implications.
  • Make it a conversation with give and take, not a monologue.
  • Practice asking more questions. It’s an invaluable skill.
  • Give others time to think and consider their answers. Not everyone may think as quickly as you and your impatience can shut them down.
  • Allow silence. It’s okay; especially during important discussions and even if it is awkward.

So get comfortable with silence. It will help you to better understand others.

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April 2, 2018

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