"You cannot not communicate." This is a quote from a wise professor I had in undergrad. When I was sitting in her Communication 101 class at 18 years old, little did I know how many times this notion would come up in my professional interactions. Silence is one of those skills that fall into the basket of communicating something even when you don't speak.
It sounds quite simple to make a statement or ask a question then be quiet for a reaction from the other person or people. If you already practice this skill, great! If you find yourself totally uncomfortable sitting in silence while you interact with others, start practicing now.
Here are a few reasons why shutting up can be a useful technique in your communication toolbox.
- Humans need time to think about how they'll respond or what they want to say. If you keep talking, it interrupts their thinking and can encourage the other person to give up and just listen to you. If you want to ENGAGE in conversation genuinely, be silent and let the other person comment.
- If you intend to receive information back from the other person, silence can be a POWERFUL WAY TO INFLUENCE. Once you've asked for what you need, wait. It's not often someone will walk away from you, so they will most likely respond if you are quiet.
- Silence and pause can demonstrate your ABILITY TO LISTEN and BE PRESENT with the receiver of your words. If you continue to talk, there is a strong likelihood you aren't listening. It's good practice to be present when communicating, so quiet your internal voice that is racing to speak and get your point across or story told.
- Often our response to a conflict or difficult situation is to explain by using more words. This type of reaction can appear as being unconfident and uncomfortable confronting others with what needs to be fixed, changed or improved. If you choose your words wisely about the situation, then ask an open-ended question with a silence afterward, it allows the other person to THINK about what you have said and RESPOND with their viewpoint. The alternative can be stating the problem, telling them what is needed, then walking away without alignment and a co-developed plan forward.
- Have you ever attended a presentation or meeting and someone reads their slides or has a script? Annoying at best. Naturally pausing brings out AUTHENTICITY and can increase engagement with an audience. When you present, take some time to think about your messages and practice your words without slides or notes. Taking your time and thinking about your message as you speak will most likely enable you to pause with silence.
Are you are guilty of filling the silence with words or always thinking about what to say regardless of the situation? Try using pause or being quiet to enhance how you communicate with others. If you already use silence effectively, share what works well so that we can learn from you!
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