Welcome the Silence

In speaking, presenting and even in one-on-one conversations, there’s a strong desire and often a perceived need to fill any empty space with words. That’s one of the reasons that we use filler words (e.g. um, ah, so, etc.) — we feel the need to make sure that we’re always saying something because the gaps feel like giant spaces that need to be filled. This (in addition to nervousness) is why we tend to talk too fast, believing that we need to fill up all of the spaces.

In truth, the spaces and the silence that you allow are powerful. Pauses are one form of silence that allows your point to land and to be taken in by whomever is listening. The space that seems to exist when we talk slower is also impactful because speaking slower allows the listener to really hear what you’re saying. And silence itself — allowing people to have some silence to ponder whatever has been offered to them — can be one of the most impactful tools for a speaker or presenter, and this is especially true in one-on-one or small group conversations.

So often we ask someone a question, but we don’t let them answer the question – continuing to talk or immediately asking another question. Even if and after someone has answered a question, it’s critical to be silent and allow them to process their own answer–in other words, to sit with the answer they just gave you. This is particularly true when someone has an emotional response to something that’s been said to them or asked of them. When someone has an emotional response to anything (which you will notice if you’re paying attention, fully present and observing as much as listening), let them have the silence so that they can experience whatever it is that they’re experiencing.

When you fail to allow the silence, you’re making it about you (e.g. talking, asking more questions, etc.). When you allow the silence, you’re giving a gift to the other person. Yes, there are times that the silence can and will be uncomfortable, but that’s the point. It’s the discomfort that opens the door to deeper and richer understanding. When you feel the need to fill the space or replace the silence with your voice, pause and let it be.

Welcome the Silence

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