How to avoid awkward silence after your question

‘What happens when I ask a question and I’m met with silence, and that silence keeps on going?’. This question often comes up during Leaders Who Ask training.

When we ask a question that engages the other person, it can take time for them to think through their response. When we are uncomfortable in this silence, it’s much more likely the other person will also  become awkward, even if they were comfortable to start. Or perhaps our question was not engaging to begin with!

Here are three strategies to help you hold a comfortable silence, while also encouraging the other person to speak.

  1. Ask open questions.An open question has infinite possibilities in its response – it’s not a ‘yes / no’ question. As people learn to bring coaching skills into their leadership tool kit, they often believe they are asking open questions when in reality their questions are closed. If you are met with silence, review if your questions are really open ones.
  2. Ask yourself – honestly ask yourself – are you sitting in judgement on this person? When we ask questions confirming from a place of judgement, our questions have a sting. When we judge others, they can feel it, and and they’re much more likely to respond with a defensive attack or a resistant silence. When we come from a place of curiosity and empathy, we are much more likely to ask questions that the other person connects and responds to.
  3. Respect their need for space to reflect and respond. If it’s a good question, they will need time to think it through. Adopting an attitude of conversational generosity will help us to experience this silence as a valuable part of the conversation, and is an opportunity for the other person to build awareness and begin their own discovery.

So when you ask good questions in your quest to ask more and tell less, check in on the cause of the silence. If it’s a good comfortable, reflective silence – hold it. If you’ve asked closed questions, or if you or if you need to move from judgement to curiosity – that’s your opportunity for growth.

Hold the silence – comfortably and effectively – today.

Go Fearlessly (and quietly!)