Power of Silence

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Last Updated on November 20, 2023 by Bill Truby

Imagine this. You ask a question. It’s a question posed to your boss, your spouse or your friend. The person looks right at you and doesn’t say a word. There is a calm, neutral expression on their face. They have simply received your question but have not answered it…yet. What goes on inside of you?

Most of us have an aversion to this kind of silence. A 30-second pause can feel like an hour. It is very uncomfortable. And when the silence occurs, our minds start to speak. Assumptions, fears, even solutions to problems, are generated in the discomfort of this quietness.

I learned how uncomfortable silence is to people when I was an on-air personality for a radio station many years ago. I came to realize that even a 10-second pause seemed like an eternity to the listener. Even this short gap of “dead air” caused the listener to take notice of the radio, often reaching for it to turn up the volume or see what went wrong. Try it. Slowly count to 10 and notice how long it feels.

To be clear, we are not averse to silence, in general. A quiet morning with a cup of coffee and a good book, a walk in the woods when the air is a peaceful and still, or a meditative moment – all are welcomed. But a gap of silence when interacting with another person can be, at best – uncomfortable, and at worst – condemning.  Whatever the response, silence can have a powerful impact.

In one research study designed to find the traits of powerful leaders, it showed that they often used silence as a way to motivate, get answers, or even let an employee confess to a problem. As a leader, or even when talking to a friend, this gentle and subtle tool can have a positive impact.

Here are four times when silence can be a beneficial tool:

1. When you ask a question, be silent and wait.

If you do, you WILL get an answer. Too often we become uncomfortable with the silence ourselves and fill the gap, thereby truncating the process of getting an answer. Trust the silence. Even a short gap of silence can cause the person(s) to take the initiative and give you an answer.

2. When someone asks you a question, yet they should know the answer – just shut your mouth and wait.

Let a number of seconds go by before answering. This kind of gap will almost always cause the other person to give you what they think first, thus revealing the contents of their mind.

3. When you’re a leader sitting in a powerful meeting, be silent until it’s time to speak your mind.

Too many words dilute the important ones you are waiting to deliver. After everyone else has emptied their vocabulary banks, they will turn to you and ask what you think. When they do, give a few more seconds of silence, then speak. It will supercharge the power of your words.

4. When a person is doing or saying something they know they shouldn’t, keep your mouth shut.

Just give them “the look.” (Mothers have perfected this one.) You can get apologies, even immediate behavioral change from cocking your head, tilting it down a bit, squinting your eyes and giving that grin that says, “I know what you’re doing.”

Now…here’s the most important part of this Article….

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Can you hear what I’m not saying?!

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Bill Truby

Founder and President of Truby Achievements