You probably don’t believe that silence is one of my favorite tools. Certainly, when I taught a presentation skills class to Johns Hopkins graduate students, they did not expect me to talk about silence! But I did. And at the end of the week, their final presentations showed how silence can be so effective.
When Mariah began her program, we all saw the power of silence take over. She paused. Then she made eye contact with her audience. She waited. Only when a room full of curious eyes were focused on her did she begin to speak.
We saw it when Kristin began her meeting with a question — neither simplistic nor overly complex — designed to transform an audience into a group of participants. She asked. She waited. Sometimes she waited five to eight seconds, and five to eight seconds of silence is longer than you might think! It’s very hard to listen to silence.
We watched Tad use silence in a marketing brainstorming session. There was a blizzard of ideas, but when the flurries slowed and then stopped, he didn’t move on. He waited, in silence, for a full 60 seconds. The best ideas of the session followed that silence.
And I know that skillful negotiators, like my colleague Michael, use silence in their work every day. I’ve heard Michael say,
“The person who speaks first, loses.”
I think he’s right, and how-to books on negotiation concur.
I like to use silence in the appreciation segment of a team building session (my favorite part of these workshops!) when colleagues tell one another what they genuinely like about working together. The inevitable lull comes, and everyone looks at me as if to say, “Well, we did it. Can we go home now?” I just smile and wait, knowing that my silence will give them time to appreciate one another in a deeper way.
How can you use silence in your work and life?
Karen Snyder is a MG RUSH professional facilitation alumni. Having come into our class with quite a bit of coaching experience, she was not only an excellent student but a valuable contributor. Her article on ‘silence’ somehow reminds us of Dr. Amy Cuddy’s research on ‘Presence’. Cuddy demonstrates that people answer two questions when they first meet someone:
- Can they TRUST the person?
- Can they RESPECT the person?
Others may refer to these two dimensions as ‘warmth’ and ‘competence’. Cuddy effectively asserts they clearly develop in the sequence shown. Trust always comes before respect.
Silence generates trust when the persona exudes warmth, compassion, alertness, and sincerity. Professionally however, most believe that competence comes first. However, it does not develop until trust is established.
Dr. Max Bazerman claims the most powerful word in negotiations is “huh” — as in, tell me more. Listening, not speaking, makes you a more powerful negotiator. Likewise, silence can make you appear to be a warmer and more trustworthy person and facilitator.
Terrence Metz, MG RUSH Facilitation Training
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