Silence is an underrated leadership tool. Of course, I am not talking about the kind of ‘hostile silence’ that intimidates people into saying something! This is a silence that gives people time to think and opens up the conversational space for something richer than top of mind thoughts.
Silence can be more challenging for extrovert thinkers, who often need to talk to think* – ‘talking in draft form’. Extroverts can be uncomfortable with silence and jump into fill it and to ‘save’ people.
By contrast, introvert thinkers need the space to think before they talk*. Typically not uncomfortable with silence, they need it for thinking.
Five ways leaders can create and leverage powerful silence
- Team discussions. Leadership teams who allow space in conversations are more likely to benefit from the input of everyone in the team. Allowing silence enables sensitive issues to be surfaced, and then the team can determine if/how to address them.
- Coaching conversations. In my Leaders Who Ask training, I teach leaders to bring coaching skills and questioning techniques into their leadership toolkit. We talk about ‘80-20 talk time’. The ‘coachee’ speaks 80% – as the leader you speak 20%. A great question that gets the other person thinking will need time and silence to process and respond.
- Meetings. When you present an update, or a challenge for the team’s attention, ask an open question, and then wait. Be still. Quiet. Your comfort with the silence indicates to others that you really do want to hear their thoughts. Responses will come.
- Asking for feedback. When you ask someone for feedback, allow them the courtesy of silence to process your request and develop their response.
- Thinking time. Do you offer yourself the gift of personal silence? Or are you always ‘go go go’? Allow your brain to process the day, connect ideas, dream up new stuff by creating silence. This might be a half hour of quiet contemplation, or it may simply be leaving your phone in your pocket and staying in your own thoughts when you are waiting in a line at the checkout.
Often it will be the second thoughts – not those that come to mind quickly – that are most valuable. You will miss those if you fill in the silence.
I am a card-carrying extrovert thinker… And the older (and wiser?) I get, the more I am learning the value of silence.
How could you bring a little more silence into today?
Go Fearlessly (and quietly!)
* Extrovert and introvert are preferences only – most people can work both ways when they need to. Being aware of you own preference will help you develop your impact as a communicator.