Denita Powell found herself getting annoyed while talking with a colleague. “While I was communicating my point, he would constantly interrupt me by asking, ‘What do you mean by that?’” Though frustrated, Powell kept her cool until he finished. She then took an extended pause to reassess the dialogue—and wordlessly convey her exasperation. “Sometimes, just a deliberate pause can help get a conversation back on course,” says the assistant director of the College of Adult Learning at Cincinnati Christian University.
If silence can work so well, why do we feel the need to fill every available gap with words? “Lots of folks believe that any gaps in the flow of a conversation are negative, contributing to overwhelming feelings of awkwardness and uncertainty,” suggests Nancy Gerber, P.C.C., founder of Atlanta-based, success coaching firm SteppingStones (www.sstones.com). “To avoid this discomfort, many keep up a constant stream of chatter, whether or not they have something relevant to contribute.”
Natasha E. Smiley, P.H.R., certified human resources professional for Kohler Co., in Kohler, Wisconsin, believes, as Powell does, that conversation lulls can help facilitate reflection on the topic at hand. “I am comfortable using silence when communicating, especially in training someone on a new skill or dealing with a sensitive issue,” says Smiley.
“Silence can provide a gateway for both the listener and speaker to foresee and adapt with appropriate forethought,” says Fran Briggs, a success coach in Glendale, Arizona (www.franbriggs.com). “When you discipline yourself and your natural resistance toward remaining quiet until your speaker has finished speaking, you’ve struck gold.”
- Get Cool with QuietIt can be harder than you think to actually pipe down and let another person speak. Our experts say you can do it! Here are some tips from Briggs, Gerber, and recent Speaker Hall of Fame inductee Willie Jolley (www.williejolley.com) to help you communicate in silence.
- Change your perspective. Don’t view silence as confusing or demeaning. This will eliminate tension—perceived or real—during a conversation.
- Use gestures. Head nods and smiles further communicate your point.
- Give your ears, body, and soul a break! Incorporate periods of silence into your daily life. For instance, turn off your car radio during your morning commute.
- Be sincerely interested in the other person. By doing so, you will tend not to dominate the conversation.