Want to get people to be themselves? Stop talking. No seriously, STOP.
At work, anyone who’s experienced a long pause in a conversation or meeting knows firsthand how awkward the quiet can become.
We hear our clients admit this all the time: I can’t handle silence.
And then they, like many of us, rush to fill it with something. Anything.
This is why silence is also an indispensable tool in developing our EQ and making your work (and other) relationships as cooperative and productive as they can be.
“Silence is powerful” is NOT a new concept.
Silence or stillness on the stage or screen upticks the dramatic tension as we wait with bated breath for resolution.
A strategic pause in a negotiation—held just a beat long—allows your counterpart to take a step toward you rather than get further entrenched in their objections.
And the gravity of “a moment of silence” needs no explanation.
As I’ve said elsewhere, at the senior level, PEOPLE are your deliverable, NOT the deliverables themselves—which makes relationships your most powerful asset.
And silence is a powerful tool in your toolbox for eliciting great performance through those relationships.
In an earlier article <LINK>, we talked about the magical art of depersonalizing—how not taking things personally makes you a better leader by allowing you to keep a clear head through tough interactions.
The first step to depersonalizing is self-awareness: knowing and recognizing your stuff when it comes up, and discerning when someone else’s stuff is coming up in a conversation.
Stuff = beliefs, emotions, triggers… Stuff.
Stuff can show up as, say, when your reaction to helpful feedback is totally out of proportion to what was said; or when a disagreement between colleagues prompts one or both to shut down and avoid the conflict.
These are exactly the types of sticky interactions that can bog down your workday or your people’s productivity.
It takes a different type of skill set to navigate these successfully, one that no one warns you about when you become a leader. Navigating these interactions—and learning this skill set—is exactly the work we do with our clients, incidentally. (Learn more here.)
By pausing a beat BEFORE reacting, you can use that moment of silence as a way to pay attention to your own triggers or difficult emotions, what Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls your “beautiful monsters,” AS they rear up.
These beautiful monsters are, more often than not, in the driver’s seat when we’re acting in an unconscious, knee-jerk way. When we’re not paying attention.
But being with those difficult emotions silently—not rushing to speak—allows us to become aware of and NOT indulge our own triggers.
There’s no sugar-coating it: sitting in the soup of your own or someone else’s stuff without taking it personally, or immediately reacting… is uncomfortable.
But building your capacity for discomfort, a topic we’ll dive deeper into in the future, is itself a powerful leadership tool. This capacity, and silence, gives us the time to shift from reactive to proactive.
When you can handle the discomfort, and sit in the anxiety of the silence—what happens when you can keep your mouth shut for a moment is magic.
It gives the other party—stakeholders, or direct reports—space to think out loud. To come forward. To say things they might otherwise have withheld or been talked over.
Silence gives people space to be themselves.
As a leader, this is GOLDEN.
In response to that space, people will volunteer details or circumstances that you may not have thought to even ask about.
They’ll share insights.
They’ll feel seen and heard, which translates to feeling respected and trusted. THIS is how a leader authentically builds influence and impact.
The more comfortable YOU are with being uncomfortable, the better able you are to see and get to the bottom of what’s really going on.
Learning how to sit in silence can at first be painful. But the more one can hold their tongue, the more the other person drives the conversation and asks the next question.
By beefing up one’s own comfort with discomfort, gently leverages the other person’s discomfort with silence. What’s key here is holding space in the conversation so that the other person feels heard and respected.
It is a way to influence while allowing the other person to ask for what THEY want, rather than steer it with one’s desired outcome.
(To be clear, I am not suggesting that you make silence a weapon to make the other person feel uncomfortable. There is a fine line between influence and manipulation, and the better leader stays on the side of influence. Not just because it’s the right thing to do (it is), but because it drives success in the long-term. I’ll take a deeper dive on this topic too, in a future article).
If you can sit in silence, you can get very curious about what is going on in the interpersonal relationship at hand, right now.
Curiosity instantly neutralizes any interaction. So that rather than getting more deeply entrenched in a conflict or situation, you can get people on board, receptive and cooperative—even if they never come into total agreement. (This is not about consensus, but consent; you are not leading a democracy.)
Ready to be silent…
And become the leader you’ve always wanted to become? Schedule a complimentary discovery call to learn more today.